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Friday, September 23, 2011

A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes pt 2

Thursday, Day 6

Paul & I woke at around 5am to watch the boat dock back at Port Canaveral and have some coffee. To our surprise, we were already back at port, and we realized it was all over. We woke the kids because we had a 645a seating assignment for breakfast, where we were able to see our awesome wait staff one last time! We ate and prepared for disembarkation. It was hard to leave for all of us, but the hardest on Gabriella. She took the end of the cruise VERY hard... she was definitely not ready for it to be over. She had some moments of quiet, some of crying. That cruise was WAY too short and time went by SO fast. The kids enjoyed every moment on that boat and at our ports of call. We spend good, quality time on this cruise together as the 4 of us, and met some great people as well. It is something we will save for and peruse again in later years as the kids get older, most definitely. The experience was phenomenal and probably the most fun we have ever had, individually or together! We feel so blessed to have a strong, vibrant 6 year old daughter in her 2nd chance at life and healthy, hilarious 4 year old boy, that we could enjoy that with. We live for today, never banking on tomorrow, and we made the most of that on this cruise!!! THANK YOU MAKE A WISH!

Once we got back to land, we took the Magical Express to the Disney World Resort. We asked Make a Wish to fly us home a few days later than they originally planned, and with a combination of saving and some pixie dust from some kindhearted friends, we made plans for 2 days at Walt Disney World at our expense! One of our amazing friends helped us to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge on property, and this place was PLUSH! The decor was amazing, and our room was an outlook room over the savanna, where the zebras and giraffes and other animals roamed around. It was breathtaking how gorgeous this resort was. Once our room was ready, we all settled in for a much needed nap. On the cruise, there is such a great schedule that they leave out room to sleep, so we were all beyond exhausted!

After waking from our nap, we headed down to the busses and rode into Downtown Disney to have dinner. I had made reservations at an Irish place down there and boy was I glad I did! The food was amazing and they had a live band! We roamed around Downtown Disney, which is probably 15 times the size of ours in California! There was so much going on and the shopping.... oh the shopping. I was wishing I would instantly win the lottery so we could have gone crazy down there!

We got back to our resort that night and to bed at a decent time. We were all ready for part 2 of the fun!!!

Our "off" day photos! (remember the captions!)

Friday, Day 7

Another touch of pixie dust from a friend covered half of our 2 day tickets to the parks, so on Friday we made our way to Magic Kingdom! We also were given the gift of preferred seating for shows, tickets to the Not So Scary Halloween party and parade seating from someone who didn't even know us but works for Disney and wanted to help out!!! So much magic around us before we even got into the park! Pulling up to Magic Kingdom was breathtaking. Our passion for Disneyland is something you would only understand if you too felt it, so seeing the place created off of Disneyland's image but "improved" was like a dream for us (although I was a bit worried I would be critical, lol)! Everything was bigger and brighter! In front of the park is a huge lake, and the ticket stations were so spacious. The train station was HUGE! We even got there in time to see the opening ceremony where the animatronic Mickey opened the park! As we walked down Main Street, everything was so similar but so different, but nothing was more unique than looking at the massive structure that is Cinderellas Castle. That thing is breathtaking! We got some pictures and walked with our jaws open until we found the bakery. The bakery is a universal must for us... Land or World, we must stop at the bakery! We ate some breakfast and started to explore!

Because we wore our Make a Wish buttons, we were taken to see the characters without waiting in line, which was a HUGE blessing! The kids got to see SO many characters and we got to ride almost EVERY single ride in the park. Gabriella even became an honorary pirate with Captain Jack in his show!! The park closed at 7pm for the Halloween party, so we switched the kids into their souvenirs they got on the cruise and they were all decked out for Halloween. More rides, more characters, an awesome parade and FANTASTIC fireworks! As we were exiting the park, we stopped by a location that was housing some very important characters. Only at Halloweentime can you find princesses with their princes, so we got to meet Rapunzel, Cinderella and Snow White, all with their princes! We also got to meet Mickey and Minnie in their Halloween garb. Gabriella was in pure bliss meeting Minnie in this costume, and you can see the excitement in her eyes!!! Flynn Rider showed the kids the crown in his satchel and Cinderella gave Gabriella the sweetest squeeze ever. It was a wonderful way to end the night!!!

14 hours later, my kids were troopers! They walked all day without a complaint, without strollers and with minimal breaks. Being able to experience Disney World with them was just another thing we never thought we would be able to provide them with!

Magic Kingdom pictures!

Saturday, day 8

Our last day of magic, and exhaustion was evident. We headed to Animal Kingdom for our last day, which worked better because they closed at 5pm, and it gave us time to go back and pack. Animal Kingdom is nothing like I thought it would be! Divided into different countries, it was a LOT bigger than I anticipated! It is like a zoo gone Disney... well, I guess that's exactly what it is! We went right to the Nemo Show since we had VIP seating for the first showing. It was SO cute and it totally made me realize how much I am like Marlin with Nemo, me and Gabriella! After such a traumatic experience in life, I feel a need to completely control her safety and well being, just like Marlin with Nemo. After Nemo, we decided to go into Asia and ride Expedition Everest. Paul and Gabriella went on the ride since PJ was too small, and none of us were anticipating what this ride actually did!!! Gabriella came off of it shaking, but she LOVED it. Just not enough to ride it one more time with mommy. I rode it alone, next to a 12 year old boy who was trying to be so cool.... it was hilarious. This ride is no joke, my friends. That is all I will say.

It seemed a million degrees warmer this day, and I started to feel really sick. Turns out I was beginning to get dehydrated and the heat was making it worse. (That 24 hour drink station on the boat caused me to drink too much soda!!). I took a rest while Paul took the kids on a Jungle Trek. We did some rides, lunch and headed to the Lion King Show. I think the tickets into the park were worth that show alone.... it was AMAZING! We were given the opportunity to meet some of the cast afterwards, which was such a neat experience!! We saw the parade and then made our way to the Safaris before the park closed. The Safaris are rediculous.... so cool. We rode in a jeep out into the savanna and these animals were just feet from us! We even had to stop for a biit while 3 giraffes crossed the road! It was our favorite ride in the park for sure! The kids could hardly believe all of the animals so close to us!!

That night, we ordered pizza and took the time to pack and just sit. We got to see the truck come and fill the giraffe feeder which was RIGHT outside our room, and we watched the giraffes eat their dinner. Bedtime came quick for us all, as the excitement was wearing down and the kids had their fill of short nights of sleep.

Pictures from Animal Kingdom!

Sunday, day 9

Another early morning! We took the Magical Express to the airport, got all checked in and started our 5 hour journey home. The kids did really well given the length of the flight and how early it was. When we arrived back in Phoenix, our Wish granters were waiting for us and got us into our ride home.

Going home photos:

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NoTHING lasts forever, but the memories will. We had the time of our lives! Gabriella's wishes came true and she was given an experience that she so deserved after fighting so hard! PJ had an amazing time, and deserved everything just as much for being patient and a great brother to Gabriella and all she has been through. And Paul and I... well, just having Make a Wish bless our family so much satisfied our desire to give our kids the world for those 9 days. Many times, we kept saying that even though it was an experience we will never forget and cherish so closely in our hearts, we would trade every second of it in exchange for our daughter to have not had to go through all she has nor face all she will have to. But that is not an option, so we embraced and will take pride in the fact that we are a Make a Wish family with a medically fragile child who God gave us this opportunity to experience with.

Thanks for reading!!!!!!

A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes pt 1

Saturday, day 1

The morning started early! The limo was outside and waiting for us at 6am, and the kids had no idea we were riding in a limo! We made it to the airport in great timing where our wish granter Brian was waiting for us. We managed to fit everything into 4 suitcases, avoiding any charges, but we were so happy he was there to help with baggage check. We said our "bye"'s to Brian, got through security and to the most essential place of them all... Starbucks. After we finished our breakfast and coffee IV's we made our way to our gate. The flight to St Louis was full of excitement for the kids! The Stuard was so kind and gave Paul a free Monster drink and kept checking in on us. We had a 90minute layover so we grabbed some lunch at the STL airport before catching our connecting flight to Orlando, of which the kids slept the whole time! I guess the early day caught up with them!

When we landed in Orlando, it was so hectic! I think 10 other planes landed at the same time! Outside security was a Make a Wish sign but for another family. We made out way to baggage claim and ended up running into the other Wish family, going on the same cruise!!! We got our bags and headed to the Hyatt hotel located INSIDE the airport. It was SO nice and convenient!!!! We checked in and got our instructions for the next day and went up to the room to organize our things. The airport/ hotel also featured what was like a mall, so we wandered around the shops and found some dinner at Chilis. We all CRASHED that night! It's amazing how exhausting sitting on a plane all day could be!

Day 1 photos (please be sure to read captions!!):

Sunday, day 2

Florida is 3 hours later than Arizona time, so the next morning 6am wake up was like 3a to us! We got up and got our bags ready to go, as they had to be ready and against our wall with Disney Cruise tags by 830a. I made another Starbucks run (it's 24 hours in that airport!!!) so we could keep our eyeballs open. Our bags would be taken by the bellhop and the next time we saw them was outside our stateroom on the boat later that day! We went down to find breakfast, when we decided none of us were hungry. About 9am we headed to the transportation level of the airport where Disney Magical Express has their own setup. We got all checked in for our cruise, documents processed, transit boarding ticket and our Key to the World cards.

A Disney cruise line bus took us from Orlando International to Port Canaveral, which was about 45 minutes. Every mile we passed, Paul and I were in awe of how gorgeous Florida is!!!! The bus showed us a video about the cruise that had Gabriella and I practically screaming! We were all so excited we couldn't stand it! We passed Nasa from a distance, and came over a hill where our boat sat there in enormous majesty. ** Lets just pause for a moment and remind everyone reading that we are in the group of the most hardcore Disney lovin family out there. We love anything Disney. My house is mainly decorated in Disney something, and you can find a Mickey Mouse in every room. So I will be preferential and passionate about how I speak about anything related or pertaining to Disney. :) ** We were speechless. The boat was GIGANTIC, clean and gorgeous. After I took a moment to take a few pictures of the cruise terminal and boat, we went inside the terminal. Since we did the check in at the airport, we only had to wait in the terminal for boarding to start and our group 3 to be called! Of course, in natural Disney fashion, Characters started to appear in the terminal and we caught Mickey Mouse before his line got 2 miles long and got the BEST family picture! We got the lo-jack bracelets for the kids (not really, but they were tracking devices for them when they went into the kids clubs). Gabriella was getting VERY impatient and wanted on the boat NOW. I can't blame her, I was kinda feeling the same way.... lol. We went out onto the outlook, where even there it was impossible to get a picture of the whole length of the boat. Before we knew it, they were loading people onto the boat at about 1130a. We had some issues as they printed 2 cards for Paul Sr and none for Paul Jr, but once we got that squared away, on the boat we went! We entered the lobby where a big group of crew members waved and clapped and we heard over the speaker "The Disney Dream welcomes the Vega family!"..... yeah. I cried. One of them walked aside with us to point us to a few places and even asked if I was ok since I had tears down my face.

After standing in awe in the lobby for goodness knows how long, we headed up to main deck to EAT. We hadn't eaten breakfast so by now we were starving. Little did we realize, we would never starve again being on that boat!!! We went to Cabanas on the main deck, which is a 18 station buffet style walk up self serve restaurant. That's right, grab a plate or 4 and see how heavy you can make them! The Disney cruises also have drink stations with 24/7 free soda, tea, water and coffee, unlike other cruises where you buy a soda card or pay for drinks. We stuffed our face, and then changed into our swim gear that we carried on with us! The main deck is amazing.... with a deep Donald pool, shallow Mickey pool, Nemo splash pad, a smaller water slide and of course the Aquaduck water coaster, and an enormous LED screen that showed Disney movies or trivia! Gabriella and Paul headed right to the Aquaduck, which ultimately was Gabriella's wish. She wanted to ride the water slide on the boat more than anything else!

We headed up to the room at around 2p, and you would have thought we were all little kids seeing it for the first time! It was spacious in comparison to what I was expecting and the veranda was AMAZING! Waiting for us was a fruit and cheese platter, one of many gifts to come from our Make-a-Wish cruise hostesses Ana and Valentina. Our bags showed up shortly after and we took a few minutes to unpack. The bed was high enough to store suitcases under and the storage was great for our things. I even read ahead and bought an over the door organizer for the bathroom, so we didn't feel cramped up in the room at all! We got a visit from a lady that I connected with before the cruise that made us a hanger for outside of our door, called a Fish Extender among avid Disney cruisers! Another sweet lady with her gave me the BEST Minnie Mouse bag that I have carried everyday since then!

We headed to the safety drill, which was miserable for all the kiddos on the boat, but as soon as it was over we went up to get ice cream from the all day ice cream bar and prepare for our sail away! Of course, in Disney fashion, Mickey and the gang threw a huge bash as we left port, and my most favorite part of the whole boat happened. The ships horn went off to the tune of "A dream is a wish your heart makes". It was my most favorite part of the boat, but I wasn't able to get it on video! I did however, find a video online of it, and you MUST watch. (yes, I am crying hearing it!)

We got early seating dining, so we had to go get ready by 545p for dinner. The boat has 3 rotational dining restaurants, and while you change locations every night, you stick with your table number and waiter. We had the best service duo on board (this is my opinion of course), with Delyan as our main server and Katarina as his assistant. The first night, we ate at a restaurant called the Animators Palate, where dinner starts off as plain colored and transitions into a multi colored and bright palate! There are multiple screens around the room where Crush swims around and interacts with people. This is one restaurant from the original boats that Paul and I remember seeing on Travel Channel shows years and years ago! Dinner was amazing. Gabriella had Mickey noodles and cheese while PJ had steak. Paul enjoyed Veal and I ordered some YUMMY black bean cakes! Our waiter not only brought us an appetizer, soup/salad, entree and dessert, he also brought us a dessert appetizer so we could try them all! I blame him for coming home 4.5lbs heavier!!!!!

As if the day hadn't been exciting enough, we caught a show that night after dinner. The Golden Mickeys show was AWESOME and so exciting!!! The boat was a tad rocky that night as we were travelling fast towards Nassau for the next mornings port of call, but none of us had any issues with sea sickness, thankfully! Upon returning to our room, we had a swan sculpture on our bed via towel and a bunk bed magically appeared from the ceiling while we had been out!! I'll admit, I've missed turn down service since we have been home!!! We spent a little bit on our balcony, enjoying the ocean air breezing past us and listening to the waves steadily hit the boat. It was bliss.

First day on board (please be sure to read captions!!):

Monday, day 3

We woke to a call from Mickey Mouse, telling us there were some exciting things in store for the day! Mickey was on to something! Our Fish Extender outside had been stuffed with awesome goodies from various generous people (of whom I connected with on FB and Disboards before the cruise). Since proper cruise and Bahamian attire would be SWIM, we got our suits on and headed up to Cabanas, since we had not yet stuffed our face with their breakfast spread. We could see Nassau, Bahamas appearing in the distance during breakfast, and I was able to snap a lot of great pictures as our boat turned and backed into its parking spot. (yes, I say that like it was a VW Bug because that's the precision it had!). We even had a great view of Atlantis from our rooms balcony! We had an excursion planned that took us on a boat to Blue Lagoon to the Dolphin Encounter, so we had to meet in the Buena Vista theater (their movie theater) for our wristbands and instructions for the encounter at 9am. We followed the guides off the boat and on a 10 minute walk through the shops along the dock in Nassau, Bahamas. It took us to another boat that took us 30 minutes off to another island. As we ventured further from port and closer to Blue Lagoon, the water turned into this AMAZING aqua color.... something I doubt could ever be recreated. It was magical, really.

After getting off the boat in this private little cove, we went right to the dolphin encounters area where we went through a quick training. After the educational portion, we all got our things put in lockers and found spots around the encounter bay. We got to meet the trainer and our dolphin for the day, Salvador! They started by doing family shots with the dolphin kissing one member of the family. We, of course, had the dolphin kiss Gabriella, and it was AMAZING!!!!! After family shots, the trainer brought down groups of 8 or 9 people to interact with the dolphin. We were the last group, so we got to see everyone else do it first! The dolphin danced with each person, everyone got to pet his back and belly and even touch his teeth, everyone got a hug and a kiss from him and everyone got to feed him. When it was our time up, PJ was hesitant and Gabriella was VERY concerned about the fish swimming by our feet. It didn't take long though before all 4 of us were in dolphin heaven, enjoying our encounter with this amazing creature. Gabriella hugged him like he was one of her baby dolls.... it made me melt. Gabriella got 2 kisses from Salvador. I like to know that one is for her and one was for Abbie, since Abbie loved nature so much! At the end of the presentation, the other party got out of the water and the trainer asked what we thought. I expressed my gratitude and shared Gabriella was a Wish Kid. She then had Salvador give Gabriella his tail fin. She told us about how doctors come in every 6 months from Animal Kingdom and they test out the animals to make sure they are healthy. They get blood drawn from their tail fin, so allowing someone to hold it showed great trust. She showed Gabriella all of his scars from blood draws, just like she had! It was probably the sweetest and most personal part of the whole encounter, for Gabriella to see how her and Salvador were alike in a small way. It was an experience like no other, and something I couldn't be more thankful to Make a Wish for giving to my kids.

We got some time after the encounter to play on the beach at Blue Lagoon before heading back to Nassau. The sand was soft and white, the water clear and the landscape paradise. The kids were SO ready to finally get their toes in some sand and ocean! We only had an hour or so before heading back, but Paul and I indulged in a Bahama Mama before leaving. We couldn't go to the Bahamas and not have one, right?!? When we got back to the dock, we ended up buying 2 huge conch shells from a local as souvenirs and headed back to our boat. While I am sure it is an amazing place, it was best to get back on the boat before it got dark.

Waiting in our room was a plate of cookies from our hostesses! These cookies, my friends, are the downfall to my existence. If I could eat them for the rest of my life, I'd sacrifice all other foods. They were SOOOO yummy!!! Gabriella watched a movie while PJ quickly watched the backs of his eyelids. Paul and I got ready for the 2nd night of dinner, at the Enchanted Garden. Dinner was again amazing, and we ate enough for a week. The kids persistently begged us to go to the Oceaneers Club and Lab, so after a quick stop to meet some characters in the family lounge, we took them. They practically ran away from us, and Paul and I were left with nothing to do! We didn't plan on taking the kids there, so we didn't research the adult sections of the boat. On our way to figure out what to do, we met the captain of the boat, Captain Henry, and snapped some pictures with him. We explored some of the lounges and bars, but decided we are just way too cool for that boring adult stuff. We ended up making friends with a bartender at one of the locations and learned about the crazy schedule those cruise ship worked work. I had wondered why everyone was from somewhere else in the world, and it is because they work for 6 months straight and go home for 2 months. I give them so much credit for what they do!!!!!

We got the kids after a while in the club and we all headed back to the room to catch some much needed rest!

Photos from Nassau! (please be sure to read captions!!):

Tuesday, Day 4

We knew we wanted to get up early and be ready to get off of the boat this day, so we had room service delivered bright and early to our room. Again waking and changing into beachwear, we looked out and saw we were docked at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. It was something I have known about for a long time but never thought I would have the honor to see, and here I was, waking up and looking at paradise. The kids were SO excited to spend the day at the beach, nonetheless Disney's beach!! We got in line downstairs and were one of the first to get off the boat and onto the island. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the family beach, but we got a great resting spot right along the waterside. The sand was still freshly raked because no one had made it to the beach and I think my kids were the first ones in the water that day! They saw a ton of fish and a crab before the waters got a little busier. Thanks to our hostesses, we got a complimentary getaway package with tubes and rafts and snorkel gear! We spent a while just enjoying the beach. Gabriella was my brave one, going out in the water and letting fish swim around her feet. PJ was hesitant, not travelling much past 4" deep. Time seemed to speed by before it was time to send Paul and Gabriella for their stingray encounter! We got them all signed up and to the learning hut to find out more about rays. After that, into the ray pool they went! They got to touch and feed the rays!!! Gabriella was concerned about the big fish by her feet most of the time, and was too scared to feed the ray, but she was still able to touch them! Paul and Gabriella spent some time after that snorkeling in the ray pool. I couldn't BELIEVE my daughter was snorkeling!!!!!!!

Castaway has 2 big restaurants, which are walk up self serve BBQ places. We hit lunch after the ray encounter and went to soak up some more time on the beach. We had gotten an invitation the night before for a special appearance in the family D Lounge at 245p, so we headed back a bit early to the boat for that. It was starting to get to be a little much with the sun at that point, so we were ok to head back, but it would have been soo nice to have more time at that island! My kids thought it was the bees knees!!! We got changed and somewhat freshened up (as much as one can after a day in sand and salt water) and headed for our special invite event. It was a Make a Wish only meet and greet with Pluto and Mickey! We got to see all the Wish families on the boat and even met a 17 year old boy who was transplanted at Loma Linda!!! More amazing than that was meeting Desiree, the mom of a 3 year old cutie, who lives in the neighborhood we used to live in about 25 miles from our house now, also on their Wish trip! The kids ate some of those amazing cookies they had out for the families, and we got some pictures with the characters as well as out Wish cruise hostesses. It was a great little treat to spend that time with other Wish kids!

Returning to the room, we had another yummy fruit and cheese plate waiting for us. It was good, but we had more important things to think about.... like PIRATE NIGHT!!!! Something all 4 of us were VERY eager for!!!! We all got cleaned up and changed into our pirate garb and headed down to a restaurant WAY too pretty to be filled with a bunch of scuurvy scoundrels! We ate at the Royal Palace that night, but it featured the same pirate night menu as the other restaurants. We both had the steak, and it was probably the yummiest meal in my opinion! Immediately after dinner was a short Mickey's Pirate Party on the main deck we went to. PJ went into meltdown mode, but it quickly passed. The kids spent some time in the Oceaneers Club again while Paul and I did some souvenir shopping for all the things that would bore the kids. We went back a short bit after to get them so we could grab our place for fireworks on the main deck that night! The fireworks were AMAZING, partly because it is Disney but mainly because we were watching fireworks from a majestic piece of machinery in the middle of the ocean. Amazing. After the fireworks was a dance party that Paul and I were amped for, but the kids were not having it. We headed back to the room to rest for the night and prepare for our day at sea!!!

Castaway Cay day pictures!  (please be sure to read captions!!):

Wednesday, Day 5

Today was a big day! Paul turned 30!!!! This was our all day at sea, so we got up and headed for a sit down buffet breakfast at Enchanted Garden. The spread was great, and we took no break from shoving our faces! We took the kids to do their souvenir shopping, where we had to convince Gabriella to get something OTHER than what she already had! She wanted to get this Marie stuffed animal from Aristocats, of which she already has! They ended up with great souvenirs. Gabriella got a Rapunzel dress and a sailor Minnie plush. PJ got a Captain Hook costume and a pirate gun. At the end, Gabriella told me she made a good decision getting her dress. Stay tuned for pictures of them in their garb!!!

I did not take a ton of pictures during the day. We spent all day lounging at the pool, letting the kids go on the waterslide over and over, and talking to new friends. We grabbed some yummy lunch from Flo's V8 Cafe that is poolside and just enjoyed the ride on the ship! They sounded all the tunes on the ships horn, and my heart melted at the top notch thinking it took to make such a marvelous boat.

We dressed up this night for Daddy's birthday and went back to the Royal Palace for their traditional dining menu. It was bittersweet knowing it was our last night, and Gabriella was already struggling with the idea of the trip ending so fast. We spent the evening together.... attending a character meet in the family lounge, going into the kids club with the kids and meeting some very important characters in the main lobby. We went down at 10p to the main deck to enjoy some ice cream and watch UP on the big screen. Looking over at my fancy dressed kids and husband, eating their ice cream and enjoying that moment is something I will cherish forever. As many beautiful things that we saw on this trip, that moment took the cake for me. I am one lucky and PROUD woman to know God entrusted me with all that He has given me in my family.

We returned that night to one last special gift from our Wish hostesses. A signed Mickey Mouse plus that now sits proudly on the shelf in the living room. A precious reminder of the time we had!!!!

A day at sea, (please be sure to read captions!!):

to be continued.......

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Journey to a Wish...

Everyone is anxiously anticipating our Wish Trip pictures! No internet, and no time, have both hindered a prompt update.... but I am almost ready to post everything!

Our journey began long before the day we left for Gabriella's wish trip. August 2009, Gabriella was visited by her wish granters and wished to go to Disney World. Two weeks before going on her October 8th trip, she suffered her massive stroke and her trip was cancelled.

Fast forward to January 2011, where after countless hours of therapies, endless doctors appointments, and most importantly a life saving heart transplant, Gabriella was approved by doctors to travel again and was able to re-wish. This time, wishing for what she originally wanted but could not do due to medical limitations.... the Disney Cruise.

Because it takes a while to plan, our trip was scheduled out into September 2011, which gave us plenty of time to prepare and anticipate. Gabriella was chosen to be a recipient in something called "The Big Give". Not sponsored by Disney or Make a Wish, the Big Give is just a humble group of giving and talented ladies who shower certain wish kids with gifts to get them ready for their trip. Thanks to this Big Give, both of my kids had plenty of airplane activities and snacks, cuddly blankets, beach towels, bags, and clothes for every single day on our trip with accessories to boot! Paul and I even scored with some great shirts and goodies as well! We couldn't have been more blessed to receive 25 packages over the course of the couple months leading to her trip!!!!!

Little did we realize when becoming a wish family that not only would we end up with an experience of a lifetime with memories that are priceless, we would be so blessed in relationships. We have connected with numerous people along the path, but our wish granters take the cake. They were so much more than just a liaison between us and the business end of Make a Wish. They have become friends, family even. They were there through Gabriella's stroke, transplant and rejection. They kept touch in those tedious waiting periods between treatments or transplant. They made sure to treat us every couple months or so to dinner, just to catch up. And you could see how they went from meeting a "poor little girl" and wanting to do everything right for her wish, to being people who genuinely love my kids and our family and shared so much joy in seeing Gabriella finally fulfill something we were all unsure would ever happen. They are forever stuck with us, poor things.

I put together an album of our pre-wish journey.... from the first visit, through all of the Big Give packages and into our send off party. Oregano's in Chandler went above and beyond in their generosity and compassion to make Gabriella's send off party a success, and her wish granters Brian and Ama threw the party of all parties for the special Princess.

Enjoy the pictures!! LINK:

Be looking for my next entry! I am breaking the actual trip into 2 entries!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First day of school

Well, we did it. Gabriella went off to her first day of school today! Only 5 weeks into the 1st grade school year, but she didn't miss any time after having our homebound teacher coming to keep her on track.

Gabriella wasn't the least bit nervous. She was ready. She was excited and eager to move onto this new chapter in her life. I'm not surprised because that is what we have focused on since day 1. We have carried the burden of struggle or difference FOR her, encouraging her to keep her mind on normal things for her age. Because we did focus on that so strong, she was in the right place mentally to start school.

Of course, that meant something different for me.

Sending your baby to school for the first time carries a universal emotion. Excitement, tears, sending your baby off. It's hard. But today was brutal for me as the mom of Gabriella, stroke survivor, heart transplant recipient. The day I learned she was in heart failure and had the possibility of not surviving, I went into war mode. I fought within every boundary possible, and sometimes outside of my boundaries, for her. I spoke for her when she couldn't speak, I have tended to her basic needs since she lost her right arm function, I kept a strict account of every medical appointment, medication, insurance issue and service to ensure she had the best care possible. My job, my life, my goal has been her in a way unlike the typical parent since May 2009. I have fought to keep her. Today felt like in those cartoons when they try and rip the soul out of Daffy Duck and it smacks back into place like a rubber band. When we took her to school and watched her go into line with her class and walk into her building, I felt like my soul was stretching around the building into the door and down the hall, as she walked further away. I was severing that 100% connection we have had. That total control I had over making sure she was always breathing right or had good coloring. Of knowing exactly what she was being exposed to, touching or how often she was cleaning her hands. 7 whole hours of handing her over to a classroom, and to her independence.

But thank God for the classroom, school and independence. My saving grace and why I did not end up in some Country mental institution was because her Sped teacher was holding her hand walking her to class this morning and checks in on her frequently, her godmother works in the front office, the principal and teacher are great and understanding, the nurse is on my speed dial and I on hers, and her cousin is in her class. On top of it all, I will humbly but proudly pat myself on the back for instilling good habits and hopefully god decisions into Gabriella.

This is what we fought for. This is what we begged God to give us. This is what we eagerly anticipated to honor Abbie and those first days of school she would not see but from heaven.

So though I shed more tears than I can count, and the minutes ticked by like a slow leaking faucet, she did fantastic at her first day. I am so proud!

1st Grade!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Birthday celebration!

I am behind on posting, but for good reasons.... After PJ's 4th birthday, we loaded up and went on Gabriella's Wish Trip and had an AMAZING time! I am in the process of writing a trip report and uploading 1000 pictures, literally.

Until then, here are pictures from PJ's FroYo birthday party at the end of August and his birthday lunch at Benihana on his actual birthday!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

PJ's 4th Birthday!

Happy 4th birthday to my precious little man, PJ. My life would be so incomplete without him. He is a little ray of sunshine, and also a spitfire! He loves to make people smile and will do anything to lighten up a mood! He was given a special quality by God of patience and understanding at such a young age... something he needs to be the brother of Gabriella.

He is currently in Hip-Hop class, plays T-ball, can count REALLY well and knows almost all of his letters by sight. His best trick is doing a headstand for as long as he can stand the blood rushing to his head! I would say his favorite thing to do is spend one on one time with Mommy, but I am just biased. ;)

I am so blessed to be his mom... thankful to God everyday for giving me and Paul our beautiful babies. Today I am reminded of the miracle God allowed us to be a part of in bringing new warriors for Him into the world.

Here is a journey our Bubba's 4 little years......

My newborn Prince

PJ's 1st Birthday
PJ's 2nd Birthday
My Goofy boy at 3!
And my Bubba today!

Monday, September 5, 2011

GREAT few weeks!

Since Gabriella's biopsy that proved she overcame rejection, she has been doing great! Labs are stable, her energy is perfect and all seems to be well. She is still on all of the heart failure medications, increased levels of immunosuppressants and other random meds, but they seem to be working cohesively to keep everything calm. We visit clinic again this Thursday and will hopefully formulate a game plan for medications!

We are working up close to Gabriella's Make-a-Wish trip! The anticipation the kids harbor everyday is SO exciting to watch! Gabriella was even chosen to be a recipient in the Big Give, an independently formed group of crafty and loving women who shower certain Disney wish kids with gifts and hand made goodies. Receiving these packages for the kids (and occasionally something for Paul and I) has been better than any countdown calendar we could make!

Gabriella is also SO excited because she will be starting school soon!!! While this is VERY hard on me, I can't help but feel her joy. School started already, but she has been receiving homebound services so she is on track with the classroom. Knowing my godson is in her class, and my comadre works at the school... I know they will be my eyes while she is there. Sending her off is not the hard part, it is EXCITING knowing she is growing and thriving and alive. It is the fact that for 2 years I have had 100% control, or at least 100% involvement in everything this has been through. To relinquish that and trust other people with the smallest details of her existence that can affect her whole life is a BIG thing for me. For her it will be learning to independently operate. She relies on me so heavily because of the trust we have built in our bond through her journey, and I worry about her confidence and spirit being pulled away.

Here are a few pictures I wanted to share of my amazing babies!