• Princesses Galore!


    Thursday, May 5, we slept in until 7:15…unheard of at our house!  The girls and I got busy beautifying for our special princess meet-and-greet.  The girls got to meet Elsa and Anna in the Animators Palate, a restaurant they had all decked out like Arendale.  Elsa is Halle’s favorite princess, and she was in awe.

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    Next, we moved on to the princess meet-and-greet, where the girls struggled with staying in line.  Once it was finally our turn, the girls met Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, the coveted Tiana (for Malia) and Rapunzel (for the third time).  Malia was enthralled with Tiana.  The two of them had a long chat.  Malia told her she likes when she turns into a frog in the movie, and Tiana told her that was very gross and slimy.  Many hugs were shared.  Rapunzel was amazing.  She remembered the girls and told them she was so honored to see them three times.  They laughed, hugged and told stories.

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    Today was warm but winnnndddyy.  Halle and I attempted to go on the Aquaduck water slide on the top of the ship.  It was so cold and windy waiting up that high, and a kind couple invited us up to their spot which was covered from the wind.  They told us they were from Florida and live 10 minutes from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium that we are visiting on Saturday.  They told us to drive 10 minutes from there to ‘Honeymoon Island’ for beautiful views away from the hustle and bustle.  We will have to check that out!  We never did get down the slide…

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    The kids swam, Kaleb chilled in the Oceaneer’s Club…the place that is loaded with games, shows and video games.  It is fully staffed by Disney.  They have a pretty intense check-in process, and in order to check them out you have to go through a series of steps, including sharing a secret word.  Nick neglected to tell me that the first time I tried to pick Kaleb up.  Sheesh!  I didn’t think we would send the kids in there when I initially read about the cruise.  After all, we want to be together!  For real, we have to drag Kaleb out of there.

    We enjoyed our last delicious dinner together on the ship.  We have had an incredible table host from Croatia.  He made our dinners fun, and we will miss his charm!  He has dreams of moving to Florida or Texas someday, so we will pray for God’s provision in Ivan’s life.

    We ended our night with a show in the Live Disney Theater.  It was called “Believe”, and it was PHENOMENAL.  From the music, to the dancing, pyrotechnics, and message, it was a fabulous way to end the cruise.  To our Doodle Bops, we pray you never stop believing that God has BIG plans for you, He will protect you, He will take care of you and He will ALWAYS be by your side.

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    The girls cried for AN HOUR straight when we got back to our rooms.  Fatigued had kicked in, and they did not want this to be over.  I feel it, too.  Gratitude and joy overwhelm me.  May we be able to share and give joy in the future, like it has been given to us this week.

  • Stranger Danger!


    This morning started early at 7:30 with breakfast in order to disembark onto Disney’s private island at 8 a.m.  We wanted to go early, as we heard not many do, so we could have a lot of the island to ourselves.

    While getting in the elevator, we ran into a new friend of Kaleb’s.  He met Jack at the Oceaneer’s Club, a crazy-amazing place full of games, plays and activities for kids.  Jack’s family told us they were from New York, and they loved that Jack had made a nice friend on the ship.  They asked us where we were from, and we informed them.  They laughed and said Kaleb told Jack he was from North America.  Hahaha!  Kaleb replied, “Stranger danger.”  We were cracking up!!!  It sounds like Kaleb will have another pen pal, and we promised to give them our full address.

    I have neglected to tell you so far about Matthew.  On our first night on the ship, he came to our table at dinner and introduced himself.  Matthew is the on-ship Make-A-Wish representative.  He told us he would be checking in with us the entire week to ensure we were being spoiled sufficiently.  Have I told you how INCREDIBLE this organization is?!  He also told us he would have surprises every day for Halle in her stateroom.  Monday night it was a stuffed Mickey and 3 envelopes.  In those envelopes it told us that we had complimentary rentals for snorkeling equipment, bikes and floats on the beach.  It also told us Halle and family would have a private meet-and-greet at 3:30 today.  On Tuesday, it was chocolate covered strawberries.  Today it was fruit, cheese and crackers.

    So…we got off the ship and strolled to the beach to get our rentals.  The island was pretty sparse at this time of day, which was nice.  However, it was incredibly windy.  Also, remember the post about Halle and sand??  Uff, her struggle was in full effect today.  That meant lots of carrying Halle and a tired mom, dad and grandma.  Due to the wind, the staff did not recommend using the floats or renting kayaks, water trikes, etc., because it would be so hard to move them.  We moved on to snorkeling.  Oy vey.  Halle’s glasses made it impossible for the goggles to seal.  She couldn’t figure out how to work the breathing…Kaleb didn’t like the feel of the flippers.  Halle was crying about the sand again.  Kaleb was accused of trickling more sand on her…Yo, Malia and Nick were out snorkeling…Grandma couldn’t see or breathe with the equipment on…epic fail.

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    We moved on down the beach to the water slide area.  The water is ABSOULTEY beautiful…turquoise…the sand is soft and white…the views are amazing…oh to sit in a beach chair and enjoy it…that’s apparently for another vacation.  Malia was tired.  Kaleb didn’t want to try the slides.  Halle, Yo and I swam out and went down the slides and had some fun.  Yo is NOT a fan of salt water.  He’s not sure what God was thinking on that one.  Then Halle had to go to the bathroom.  Then something in the water bit her.  The kids whined about going back to the ship.  We headed back at 10:45. The ship was pretty empty, and the kids had full access to all the pools, the Nemo water play area and no waits for the big water slide.  They were happy, so we were happy.  Nick and I agreed we are coming back to a tropical island, soon, without them.  🙂

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    Mom and I enjoyed a delicious crab and shrimp lunch on the deck of the ship, while Nick and Yo watched the kids swim.  The kids had ice cream for lunch…and snack.  We were all happy.  🙂  It was time for naps and journaling and getting ready for the night’s events, which included a Pirate Party.

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    At 3:30, we headed to our secret gathering place, as instructed in Matthew’s invitation.  Halle, along with all the other Wish Kids on the ship, had a private meet-and-greet with Mickey Mouse.  The girls LOVED it.  Mickey told them he loved them, danced with them, gave and received kisses, and took lots of pictures.  I could not keep it together.  Scanning the room, I saw some of the bravest kids anyone could know.  To know all these precious ones are battling their bodies breaks. my. heart.  There was one family, in particular, with a little girl who had to be 3 or 4.  She appeared to be nonverbal and was crying, moaning, and wincing a great deal.  Her mom shared with us that she was having major stomach surgery the following week.  Mickey approached her and kissed her on the cheek.  Her cries turned into laughter and big smiles.  To see these children experiencing such happiness in the midst of their health struggles…there are no words.  I had to find a corner by the cookies and have a good cry.  Nick followed suit.  It was a beautiful time for these kids.  Thank you, Make-A-Wish!!!

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    We ate dinner in the Royal Ballroom and continued on to a Pirate Party on the top deck.  We were pretty tuckered out, so most of us went to bed.  Nick and Yo stayed up to see the fireworks at 10:30 and people watch at the dance.  Yo learned some new, interesting moves.

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  • Wishes really do come true…


    Tuesday, May 3, we awoke in the beautiful Bahamas.  We ate a delicious breakfast complete with Mickey Mouse pancakes, chocolate chip muffins, donuts, and a few bites of fruit to balance things out.  We disembarked and took a bus to the Atlantis Resort in Nassau.  The resort is MASSIVE.  The area between the towers that resembles a bridge is actually a luxury suite that goes for the tune of $25,000 per night!!  It is called the ‘Michael Jackson Suite’, because he was the first guest to stay there.  It apparently has housed Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, too!

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    All around the resort there are animals swimming in ponds – sting rays, turtles, fish…Malia wanted to stop and check out every one, and we almost lost in her a pond a time or two.  Let’s talk about Malia for a second.  Bless our daughter’s heart, but she has some sensory processing issues.  The girl has been so overstimulated, that she is trying everything she can to self-regulate.  She is typically a vestibular seeker, which means we find her hanging upside down and spinning everywhere…watch out for feet in your face!  While she still does cartwheels everywhere we go, without thought about what she is touching on the floor or who may be around her, she has been seeking oral stimulation this trip, as well.  We have caught her licking Mickey confetti she found on the ground, licking rails, licking the ropes that Disney uses to keep people in line, and generally just wagging her tongue from side to side rapidly.  If Malia doesn’t bring something home other than her souvenirs, we will all be shocked.

    Back to the Bahamas…We walked and walked and walked (did I mention we walked?) all the way to Dolphin Cay at the resort.  We had about 50 minutes to kill before our scheduled encounter time, so we sat on the beach, played in the sand and watched other families have their encounters.  So…when we planned this trip…Halle apparently forgot about her strong disdain for sand on her feet.  The struggle is REAL.  She FREAKS out when “soft sand” touches her feet.  Freaks.  Out.  Snot down to her chin, wailing kind of freaking out.  I bought her some crocs before we left, thinking those would do the trick, but noooooo, sand still gets in those.  So, we all took turns carrying her.  And, Kaleb took it upon himself to torture her by sprinkling dry sand on her feet.  Did you know kids still whine and bicker on vacation?? 🙂

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    Once that was behind us, we started to get REALLY excited!!  The weather was glorious…hot and sunny!!  Silently, I lifted up prayers of praise and thanksgiving for this moment.  It was so surreal to be in such a beautiful place about to see your sweetheart’s wish come true, all because of the generosity and love of others.  Wow.  Just, wow.

    When it was finally our turn, we donned our wetsuits, listened to the directions and learned our dolphin’s name was Brewer.  He was rescued from Mississippi and has been at Discovery Cay since he was 4 (he’s now 16).  We entered the water, took a few pictures, and up swam Brewer.  Halle was in her glory!  We each got to kiss Brewer and got a kiss in return on our cheeks.  We fed him, made him do tricks, petted his back and belly, saw his teeth, eyes and ears, and even got to give him a high-five.  Y’all, I’m crying typing this.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime, unbelievable, amazing, surreal experience and we will all forever cherish those moments.  Thank you, Make-A-Wish.  Thank you.  Thank you.

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    Next stop was the photo store.  Grandma Rosie had a hard time remembering where she was staying, and didn’t have all her payment information…but thank goodness the man had mercy on her and let her pay without photo I.D., as Nick was long gone with the kids and the I.D. at this point.  Those photos will be stared at, studied and talked about for years to come.

    We spent the afternoon at Aquaventure, a waterpark at Atlantis.  We wandered…and wandered…and asked for directions 4 times before we found the restaurant to meet Nick and the kids at.  The place was a serious maze.  I didn’t feel so bad once I learned Nick did the same thing to find the place. The boys took off to go on all the big slides and the girls went to the kiddie park.  The boys liked racing down the fast slides and the girls loved the lazy river.  The river wasn’t so lazy, though.  Grandma had a hard time getting on her raft, as usual, but we all managed not to pee in the pool, at least I think.  🙂  There were monster waves and rapids galore, along with lazy, slow flowing spots.  Every time a wave would come our way Halle would say, “Here comes another blast from the past.”  Thanks for that, Papa Jeff.  We shared lots of giggles and kisses while we floated along.

    We met at our meeting spot at 3:00 sharp.  Nick walked up with Kaleb and said, “Have you seen Yo?”  Um…no, why would I have seen Yo when he was with YOU?  Nick proceeded to say, “We lost him.”  Oh dear goodness, this ship is leaving at 4:45 and we lost the child with the language barrier, no money and no phone on him.  As lovingly as I could manage, I indicated Nick better go find him.  Apparently, the not-so-lazy-river made Yo get ahead of the boys.  Nick and Kaleb walked along the river a bit and found him.  Praise the Lord!

    On the bus ride back to the ship, Halle looked at me and said, “Everything I wished for came true.”  That was a moment I hope to never forget.  I love you, Halle Ann!

    We got back to the ship for naps, dinner and another show in the Disney Theater.  Tonight’s show was called ‘Disney Villains’.  One of them came and messed up Malia’s hair, which she found hysterical.  I wanted to ask him if he was going to come back and comb it later tonight…It was another stellar performance, and all the bigs and littles loved it.

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    Yohannes made a new friend on the ship and was on the prowl for girls.  The teen area looks so cool, but is only for 14-17 year olds, so he and Nick have spent some time in the sports area and 18+ events when we all go to sleep.

    Tomorrow we visit Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced ‘key’).

  • All Aboard


    Preparing for this trip, our kids had no idea what was coming their way.  Yo wanted to stay home, because he didn’t want to miss school and have too much homework…and apparently he didn’t realize the ship wasn’t going to remain stationary.  It is always a hoot in our house…

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    Because of my husband’s sweet and friendly nature, he made friends with the lady behind the counter at Disney, and she pushed our number up to get us on the ship right away.  We were on board at 11:45. The kids met Rapunzel and then headed straight for the pool on the top deck.  The weather was sunny, there was free ice cream, free soda, a huge water slide, and Frozen on the HUGE poolside TV.  Halle said something to me on the airplane and repeated it to me up on the deck while watching Frozen.  A lump formed in my throat, and I choked back tears:  “Mom, I must be pretty special.”  Wow.  I couldn’t help but lift up silent praise to Our Father…for Make-A-Wish, for Halle, for my family, for His provision…Yes, Halle will battle her body her whole life.  Yes, she will need lots of medical care and surgeries.  Yes, it won’t be easy.  BUT, she knows she’s special.  That she is loved SO VERY MUCH by her Heavenly Father, by family, by friends, and I pray that she will share that love with all whom she comes into contact with.  Sometimes I wondered if we should wait awhile to accept an offer from Make-A-Wish.  Maybe when she is older, she will remember more.  But a still, small voice told me that tomorrow is not promised.  Today is a gift that we must cherish.  This INCREDIBLE blessing of a wish means so much to our Halle.  It is, I believe, shaping her ideas about herself.  Who she is…who she can become…how loved she is…that there is so much GOOD in this world, we must believe that and share it…and never, ever give up.

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    Never, ever give up.  That was the message of the live Disney Theater show we went to tonight.  There were performances by several Disney favorites…Tarzan, Simba (man, I could feel the love, the singing and dancing were top-notch), Ariel (complete with bubbles falling from the ceiling, Halle’s favorite), and many others.  It was something we will never forget.  All I can do tonight is lift my hands in praise, giving thanks to Him who is the giver of ALL good gifts!!!

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    PS – Yo has found his life’s calling…he does not believe he will be disembarking with us at the end of this week, as he is seeking employment on the ship as we speak.

  • Fairy Godmother


    At a graduation party for some very special friends in May of 2015, we were introduced to a living angel, a Fairy Godmother to be exact…Judy Kubalak.  We were told that our dear friends, the Sawchuks, had nominated Halle for a Wish through Make-A-Wish.  Judy just happened to be a wish-granter through Make-A-Wish.  Judy’s precious daughter Charity was granted a wish several years ago, and they decided to give back and volunteer at Make-A-Wish.  In a heartbreaking tragedy, Charity passed away unexpectedly at the age of 16, due to a heart condition.  We instantly connected with Judy, she is pure love!
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    It didn’t take long for Halle to come up with her wish.  She and Malia had been watching the Dolphin Tale Movies, and had been pretending to be Winter and Hope in our backyard pool and our bathtub all summer long.  She also LOVES Elsa & Anna, so with a little help from her brother, Halle wished to go on a Disney Cruise and swim with dolphins.

    So, here we are, May 1, 2016 preparing to embark on an incredibly journey.  Guys, Make-A-Wish is TRULY INCREDIBLE.  They have BLESSED us and LOVED us beyond our wildest dreams.  The tears flow just thinking about it!!  At 11:30 this morning, unbeknownst to our children, a stretch, white, Hummer limo pulled up to our house!!!  The kids were in awe!  Our poor driver!!  All three younger kids kneeled behind him and talked his ear of the entire drive.  Malia informed him she had never been in a fancy car like this where she didn’t have to buckle, but she did see it on a movie once.  Ha!!  All Occasions Limo in Fargo does all the Make-A-Wishes in the area, so cool.

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    Both flights went off without a hitch, and we landed in Orlando around 7:45.  The moment we landed, I was bummed that our precious Steele family was not there with us (they only live 20 minutes from the airport, who knew?).  So, after a short phone call, Stacy, Cliff, Yared, Mackenzie and Kendall showed up at the Hilton hotel attached to the airport, and the kids went wild.  I’m not gonna lie…there was jumping between beds, hiding in cabinets and a lot of screeching.  We got everyone settled down in the girls’ room and left the boys in the boys’ room and drifted off to sleep.

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    Halle came down with strep throat THE DAY BEFORE we left, so she snored like an old sailor.  Malia was so excited to be with Grandma Rosie, that she was up every two hours in typical Malia fashion.  Other than that, the girls slept well.  I (Ann) found out in the morning that Kaleb had gotten sick all over his (and Nick’s) bed.  Poor guy was so excited and ate too much junk.  Thank goodness that was all it was, and he woke up ready and rarin’ to go.  Did I mention Nick has a vomit phobia?  He can embalm a dead body…but don’t vomit around him.  HAHA!  I slept through it all.

  • “Do you want a boy or a girl?”…


    “Do you want a boy or a girl?”…”We don’t mind, as long as it’s healthy.”  We’ve all heard this dialogue before, right?  But what if that baby is not healthy?  What if you learn that they have a life of struggle and hardship ahead of them?  Do you not love them the same?  I’m here to tell them you love them MORE.  You battle for them in prayer.  You savor every minute. You FIGHT for the best doctors.  You research until you throw up from worry.  And then you pray, fight and research some more.

    Our lives certainly don’t always go the way we plan them.  In our case, they are a million times better.  That sure has been the case with our Halle.  She came as our post-African surprise and has been calm, sweet and loving from the very start.  It began as we studied her, memorized her every being, like every parent does.  Why are her fingers so long?  And those toes…but the doctors said she was perfectly healthy.  Then there were her eyes.  Why did her irises shake?  After googling multiple word combinations and visiting with an ophthalmologist at 6 months old, it appeared it was just a cool trick she could do with her eyes.  Maybe she would outgrow it?  Back in 3 months, which turned into 6 months, just to be sure…Then there was her growth…an inch every month her first year of life…those Gustafson genes must have skipped a generation.  Why were her motor milestones delayed?  Why did she hold things so close to her face.   Please God, please, tell us she is ‘ok’.

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    Our worst fears were realized in March of 2013, when we were asked if we had ever heard of Marfan Syndrome.  A genetic condition affecting the connective tissue throughout the body causing a whole host of problems including severe myopia, dilated aortic root, rapid growth, difficulties gaining weight, scoliosis, glaucoma, detached retina, oh my word I can’t keep reading this, this. cannot. be.

    But, we cannot see the big picture.  We see a tiny glimpse into what is, and will be, eternity.  Halle has a favorite song that goes, “You will never run away, You’re forever mine, You will never run away, You’re by my side.”  OH how we believe that!  Though the future is unknown, we trust.  Though hard times will come, we trust.  After all, the Bible does not say IF we pass through deep waters, but WHEN…and God promises He will be with us.  He will never run away.  He’s by our side.  God is writing a beautiful story with each of us, and in particular, our Halle.  We hope you enjoy reading about this special chapter we are currently on.