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 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

3 Reasons I Decided to “Go Gold” AGAIN…In Public

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When I decided to make my first Be Bold, Go Gold video it was to support a good friend and her passion for The Ronan Thompson Foundation and childhood cancer awareness. My outlook has always been, if we can’t count on our closest friends and family to support us, then how can we expect to count on anyone else. As I began researching more about childhood cancer statistics and facts, my own passion for the cause began to grow. This, and these three other reasons are why I decided to “Go Gold” again, and this time in public.

1. It is changing my outlook on life.

If this experience has taught me one thing, it is to let go of the little things, while at the same time holding on to the simple moments in life.

I wish I could have recorded my husband’s face when he first saw all the gold glitter that covered our hardwood floor and area rug as I was making our gold tutus. I know he was biting his tongue from protesting too much. I used to hate glitter too. It’s annoying as all f***. But it didn’t matter this time. Because kids are dying of cancer. Mothers and fathers are being taken away from their children. The ones we love are leaving us too soon. When I thought about it this way, the glitter all over was a minuscule problem, and I even started to welcome it. There are still remnants all around our apartment, as well as my parent’s house. I love that it is a constant reminder to stop sweating the small stuff.

And it’s working! The other night Tyson was working late at the Ranger’s game, which meant it was just Qwynn and I for dinner. I made her mac n’ cheese, one of my favorite meals as a kid. We had a great conversation about her day at school, and I relished in the fact that she is at the age now that we can actually have these dinner talks. As I started cleaning up my plate, I noticed Qwynn was putting the last few noodles on each prong of her fork. As I looked at her messy, cheese covered hands, my first instinct was to tell her to stop playing with her food and finish eating her dinner. But I resisted.

I held back because my own memory of doing the same exact thing when I was little came flooding to the front of my mind. I thought, what’s the big deal? So she’s playing with her food and getting a little messy. At least she is here. She is alive and able to explore this wonderful world around her. That is what is important. It was then she noticed me watching her and she held her fork up and said “Look Mommy!” She was so proud of herself, and in that moment I felt proud and blessed to be her mom.

2. I had the opportunity to attend the Bloomingdales Runway Heroes Fashion Show.

The Bloomingdales Runway Heroes Fashion Show was only about 15 minutes long, but it was one of the most emotional 15 minutes I have had in my life. As I watched all these brave kids strutting their stuff on the runway, the feeling of compassion was so strong inside me. The hardest part was watching the first few kids come out being held by their parents. It instantly brought tears to my eyes. On the outside, they looked like completely normal moms and dads with their children. But I knew they weren’t. I knew that they were dealing with something no parent or child should have to endure and it was honestly heartbreaking.

I just couldn’t help but think…that child could be one of my many nieces or nephews. That child could be any one of the children I take care of everyday at work. That child could be one of the countless kids I see walking through the streets of New York City. And the saddest realization of all, that child could be my precious and beautiful Qwynn Jolee.

Halfway through the fashion show Tyson texted me this picture and message and I just lost it inside.

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This horrible thing, childhood cancer, could become any one of our realities at any moment, without any warning. When I began to think about it this way, I just couldn’t stand back and watch. I HAD to do something else.

3. I wanted and felt the need to do more.

I was really proud of my first video and felt truly blessed that I got to share the experience with my sister, nieces and daughter. But even after getting so much positive feedback for it, I still felt like I could’ve done more. I felt that I could’ve tried harder to reach more people. I started brainstorming ideas and began building the courage to go out in public and talk to people about childhood cancer awareness.

At first, I didn’t even consider doing it by myself. I wanted my friend Emily to help me with my idea, but the timing just wasn’t working out. I wanted to do something now! But how could I do it by myself? It couldn’t be possible.

But it was.

It was very possible. It was possible because I have the most supportive husband and most fun-loving and courageous daughter. It was possible because I couldn’t stop thinking about all those kids whose lives were cut short. All those moms who don’t get to dance and be silly and laugh with their little ones anymore. It is possible because I would want people to do the same for me if it were my daughter.

It is possible because if we don’t speak up and do something for each others’ kids, then the horrible reality of childhood cancer is never going to change. It needs to change and we can all do something to help.

Be Bold and Stay Gold!

Valerie Anne

3 Reasons I Decided to “Go Gold” for Childhood Cancer

1. I am a mom.

I’ve always been somewhat of a worry wart. In most situations, I let my mind wander to every possible outcome, often negative. This is something I am working everyday to change about myself. A part of me feels so blessed for everything that I have in my life, that sometimes I am left wondering, when is my luck going to change?

Being a mom was something I’ve wanted my whole life. Before I became pregnant I often worried that I wouldn’t be able to even become pregnant. My mother had trouble conceiving, so I always knew it was possible that I could have the same problems. When I ended up getting pregnant fairly quickly, I worried constantly throughout my pregnancy. I was researching everything and anything I put in or on my body, and although I had a relatively enjoyable pregnancy, the responsibility was scary.

The day Qwynn was born was one of the happiest, most long awaited days of my life. I never imagined all the emotions that would flood through me holding my little baby girl for the first time. Remembering that moment makes it even harder to imagine the pain and emotions someone goes through when they lose a child, especially one so young. My heart truly aches for all those moms that have lost their babies, no matter what the cause. I may have never had a child with cancer, but I do know the love a mom has for her child and I don’t know what I would do if mine was ever taken from me.

When I looked up The Ronan Thompson Foundation for the first time, I was mesmerized by this beautiful little boy with these amazing blue eyes that sparkled so bright. As a mother, I of course think my daughter is the most beautiful little human in the world, and I cannot even begin to imagine my life without her.

2. I was inspired by an amazing friend. 

I have some pretty amazing coworkers and friends who inspire me to think about things that I otherwise would have probably never thought about. I still remember when my friend Emily first told me about Ronan. Her love and compassion for a little boy she never even met was absolutely fascinating to me. Her courage and passion to do anything to help raise awareness for more childhood cancer research is definitely contagious.  I may not have been as brave as her to run all around NYC telling people about the lack of funding for childhood cancer, but only for Emmy would I cover my face in gold glitter and record myself dancing for anyone to see.

Something Emily has told me numerous times in our conversations about childhood cancer has really stuck with me…If these little kids can fight cancer, if they are brave enough to fight for their lives everyday, then there is no reason I, as an adult, can’t do something that is uncomfortable or scary to me.

I have not and will never forget this.

3. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone.

Pretty much since I can remember I’ve been a shy person. I am super critical of myself and wonder what other people are thinking about me way more than I should. I get super anxious in social situations, especially large groups.  I didn’t have a lot of friends in school and I’ve never found it easy to talk to new people.

Although I wasn’t able to get out there and personally talk to people about childhood cancer, what I loved about this challenge is that it did get me to step outside my comfort zone. It forced me to simply let go.  I didn’t worry about making a fool of myself on video. I didn’t worry about what other people might think about me putting this out there. I simply relished in the feeling of acting like a kid again. A feeling that all kids should be able to experience. The feeling of running around my parents backyard, bare feet in the grass, dancing with my nieces, sister and daughter.  It is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Valerie Anne

Unplugged And Roughin’ It

It’s tough to even find the words to explain just how AMAZING this weekend was!

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I grew up going camping at least 4 times a summer with our family friends, the Klatka’s and Popiel’s. With 6 adults and 14 kids, there was rarely a dull moment. Those camping trips are some of my most favorite memories growing up and I will cherish them forever.

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My friend Kimi suggested that we plan a camping trip with just us “kids.” Yes, even in our 30s we are still the kids. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and I was looking forward to making new and exciting camping memories with my childhood friends.

Tyson and I had originally planned on bringing Qwynn with us, but the more we started talking about all the logistics, the more we thought it might be less stressful and more fun (for everyone involved) if we left Qwynn behind. Luckily, my wonderful and very generous co-workers had offered a few months earlier to take Qwynn for a weekend, and we decided this would be the perfect opportunity to take them up on that offer.

It was our first time leaving Qwynn for more than an evening or night. I knew she would be in great hands, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little nervous. Especially after finding out 3 days before the trip that there would be no cell service at the campsite. The first time leaving Qwynn AND no way to check in! Could I handle it?? I quickly realized that I didn’t really have a choice, so I just kept telling myself that everything would be fine and that this was the best decision for all of us. Plus, I was anxious to have some fun with my friends, sister and husband!

I thought about Qwynn most of the 7 hour drive to the Allegheny National Park. It ended up taking almost an hour longer than expected to get to the campsite, arriving just before 1 am. When I saw just how primitive the area was, I was reassured that we had made the right decision leaving Qwynn back in NYC.

I was bummed we weren’t able to get there earlier Friday night and was extremely excited to spend the whole next day with everyone. It was supposed to rain all day, but I was definitely planning on making the most of my time there. We stayed up until 3 am chatting around the fire, and even though we went to bed so late, I was of course up by 7:30 am.

The rain was already coming down, and I laid there listening to the pitter-patter against the tent. Not for very long though. I was too excited to check out the beautiful oasis that was waiting for me outside our tent. And, I also really had to pee! I grabbed my umbrella and quietly unzipped the tent door so I wouldn’t wake Tyson.

I was kind of relieved that I was the first one up. The scenery was so beautiful and the rain was refreshing and peaceful. I stood there alone just watching the raindrops fall on the water and relishing in how amazing it felt to be there in that moment. To be in nature. To be disconnected from everything else. It was exactly what I needed after an emotional last week of school!

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I actually didn’t mind that it was raining. If the weather would’ve been nicer, I would’ve felt an obligation to go hiking and explore the area more (which also would’ve been fun), but the rain gave us an excuse to just sit around, eat, drink beer and enjoy each other’s company. So we did exactly that. All day. And it was perfect.

Right before lunch, a nice local man ran into us and informed us that they were predicting thunderstorms that night with winds up to 50 mph. Eeeek. He seemed concerned for our safety and thought we might want to reconsider staying the night, even suggesting a motel not too far away. None of us were prepared to leave though. Luckily the two small cabins across the woods from our campsite were available, so we packed up all our sleeping tents and moved our party over to the cabin. The rain slowed down for a few hours in the evening and it gave us just enough time to enjoy a delicious dinner and yummy s’mores over the fire.

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This trip was the first time in so many years that I got to just hang out and relax with my three best girlfriends. No weddings. No other events or parties. No obligations whatsoever. Just hanging out, being with each other. Reminiscing. And laughing. There was so much laughing!

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I definitely missed Qwynn, but I was surprised at how little I actually let myself think about her.  By the end of the trip I was completely confident that we had made the right decision. It would’ve have been so much harder dealing with the rain if she would’ve been there with us. And it was so great to be 100% available for my friends who I don’t get to see nearly enough. In fact, because there was no phone service, we were all able to be completely present with each other. It was absolutely fabulous! And Qwynn ended up having a pretty fun-filled weekend as well, complete with her first visit to the Natural History Musem.

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We all agreed that we need to make this past weekend a tradition moving forward and we were already brainstorming possible locations for the next summer. It would be so wonderful if we were able to continue a tradition that had been set into place by our parents nearly 30 years ago.

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Valerie Anne