*Welcome, Welcome!*

Welcome to our little corner of the world! I’m Heidi, I’m married to Kit, we have six little ones keeping us busy ranging in ages from 12 down through 3. They’re adorable and amazing and wild and wonderful!

In 2005 our third child decided to show up four months early at a whopping 22 ounces and give us a good scare. This blog was created to keep family and friends updated through our 4 months in the hospital. You can read a bit about his NICU story here.

We’ve since archived those years but last fall we started sharing again because of some new adventures. Ben’s eyesight has been slowly declining (this was expected due to complications from his premature arrival) and we learned he had far more visual field loss than we realized. He started a wish list of places he would like to see and things he would like to do before he loses more vision.

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Dreaming Big

Until the last nine months the only vacations we’ve taken with the kids was to see the grandparents. Anywhere we go we need two hotel rooms, and plane tickets for this many? Ha!

Then Ben’s story got out and you’ve seen what happened. :) It’s been amazing, and so many of his wishes have come true thanks to incredibly generous strangers and friends.

The kids have still been working hard to try and earn money for the trip that was (we thought) going to take awhile to save up for – London and Paris. I told them I would donate all my doula income from this year to that wish, too. But still… earning $1 for a chore meant they were looking at several years of labor before they could possibly save up enough to buy plane tickets abroad!

Then a kind stranger donated airline miles, and we did some searching on Air B&B, and suddenly this dream was coming true!!

I just booked an apartment in London and another in Paris. Both are less expensive than any of the hotels we’ve stayed in thus far in the US! (Okay, so we’ve stayed in some incredible hotels in the US thanks to people making some of Ben’s wishes come true, but even for hotels we booked ourselves the flats in Europe are costing us less.) We’re thrilled at the deals we were able to find, and we checked with people living in those areas to find out about good areas to stay so we know they are safe neighborhoods. We’ll be walking distance to parks and markets and very close to tube/metro stations and we are giddy to think that this is really going to happen.

The kids’ first question was how close is the Paris apartment to the Louvre? Close enough to walk. Oh, and a bakery is across the street – chocolate croissants. Our flat in London is a couple blocks from the Diana Memorial Children’s Garden. It’s truly a dream come true and I cannot wait to see the kids’ faces and Ben’s expression when they are seeing these amazing cities.

When I wrote the post linked above (I had a dream about Paris) Ben’s story hadn’t gotten out and it was truly just a dream. When I told Kit about my hope of taking Ben we thought it would take literally a decade before we were going to save up enough to logistically pull off a trip with six kids to fly abroad. We budgeted & talked and planned and dedicated all my doula funds to go towards making it happen but still.. we knew it would take years. So the idea that thanks to beautiful people that we’re going to take Ben to make his wish come true? It’s humbling beyond all words.

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Alice Givens Jones Foundation Scholarship Luncheon

There’s a young painter here in Denton named John Bramblitt. He’s really good, especially when you learn he’s completely blind and he paints everything from touch and memory. He was also the keynote speaker for the Alice Givens Jones Foundation Scholarship Luncheon this last Saturday.

A little background first: The Alice Givens Jones Foundation is a local charity organization set up to help out legally blind students with some of their expenses for college. Please go to their website and learn more about them. They’re a pretty neat organization. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

One of the directors of the organization, in fact the daughter of the organization’s namesake, saw that Ben wanted to meet John Bramblitt, so they invited us to their Scholarship Luncheon.

We arrive at the Crescent Court in Dallas and the boys are immediately impressed with their three-story fountain in the center of the courtyard.The fountain

We made our way to the right place and discovered we were to be seated with the scholars themselves front and center in the room. In addition to Bennett and his big brother, we were seated with five charming women at various points in their education. One of them even was honored to visit President Obama to share some of her work in stem cell research for blindness!

The dinner itself was incredible. Southwest cilantro Ceasar salad followed by the best lasagna I’ve ever had. Here’s the obligatory food picture. IMG_6652

Conversation was lovely, too. At first, the boys had a small problem relating to the conversational issues relevant to undergraduates, but C turned the conversation to their favorite books, and everything flowed smoothly from there.

The main event was a talk from John Bramblitt. He’s a delightful and funny man. He wasn’t born blind, but lost his sight due to epilepsy. His story is incredible. You should read it yourself. IMG_6655

Toward the end of his talk, John invited everyone in the room to visit him in his studio, and he’d be happy to teach us all to paint without sight. After the program, I introduced Ben and myself to John and asked him if his invitation was serious. He said it was. We’ll be visiting him when we can.

While we were there ostensibly to meet John, being in that room around so many intelligent and capable individuals with sight issues was truly inspirational. I may have got a little more significance from the event than the boys, but the look on Bennett’s face when he realized he was speaking to the scholarship winners, college-bound, and they were blind, was priceless. This isn’t that picture, but it’s still a pretty good shot. IMG_6654

Our thanks to Pamela Ajayi and everyone at the Alice Givens Jones Foundation for allowing us to attend. Pam, your kindness expanded the horizons of our little guy more than you know.

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SPORTS!

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I had the opportunity to take Ben to not one but two professional sports events in Dallas.

IMG_5387First up, he received a pair of tickets to game 4 of the 2014 NBA Playoffs featuring the Dallas Mavericks vs the San Antonio Spurs. Short story, the Mavs squeaked out a win in the last minutes of the game forcing the series to go into game 5 to the Spurs home team advantage. Exciting game!

But the real fun was soaking in the sights and sounds of a Ben’s first professional sporting event. Seriously, what sounds! Every chair had a noisemaker of some sort in it, and though it was Ben’s first game and he didn’t know any differently, this was the rowdiest, most rambunctious sporting event I’ve ever attended. Ben loved it!

This was also the day after our first story aired on WFAA Channel 8, so Ben was being recognized by many many kind people offering Ben some of the freebies that were in the seats for the fans. The nice woman at the concession stand even gave Ben a jumbo Slurpee on the house. The Mavs made a new young fan that day. He still wears his freebie fan shirt around. It’s a lovely shade of blue.

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A couple days after that, a friend of mine who works with the PR department for Dallas’ local pro soccer team, FC Dallas, got us into a game vs the NY Red Bulls. Besides Ben, I also took Mo and C to the game. I think they all especially enjoyed this one: they all played in a junior soccer league in Denton for a couple of seasons. While we don’t watch many pro sports in our house, they actually played soccer so they understood more of what was going on down on the field.

IMG_5398The real fun was up in the stands, though. For every bit as rowdy as the Mavs fans were, the soccer fans were doubly passionate about their home team. After a couple of legitimately bad calls by the ref against FC Dallas, the kids were introduced to some new words prompted by the FC Dallas spirit squad and chanted through the stadium.

The home team lost that day from a last-minute penalty kick, but the kids got a 99¢ refill with the jumbo Slurpee cup Ben got at the Mavs game, and everyone had a lovely time.

Our many thanks to the Dallas Mavericks and FC Dallas support staff who heard about Ben’s story and worked to give him some wonderfully fun memories.

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UPDATED & Condensed Wish List!!

Realistic or not, here’s his list! :)

England & France*
Germany
Italy
Greece
China
Japan
Canada
Australia/New Zealand

California (northern and southern)*
Las Vegas & Hoover Dam
Parthenon in Tennessee
Mouth Rushmore
Yellowstone
New Orleans

snorkeling
surfing*
ice skating* (more!)
rock climbing* (more!)
skiing
sand dunes
river
a bakery that makes “yummy pastries”
toy factory
Weird Al concert*
Great Wolf Lodge*

*These are the ones we are discussing to see if we can make happen next.

The ones that are in the works – can you believe all of these wishes coming true?? It’s amazing and Ben is ecstatic and we feel so blessed:

Grand Canyon
Alaska & the northern lights
Seattle
DC
Children’s Aquarium
how ice cream is made
Fort Worth Science Museum
Fort Botanical Gardens
waterfall
chocolate factory
cave
Alamo & Riverwalk
Fossil Rim Park
Heard Museum
bike store
video game company
Christkindlemart
Nutcracker
ICE! exhibit
Farmers Branch Historical Park
Log Cabin Village
Kimball
FW Water Gardens
Bass Hall
Central Park Frisco
Dallas Farmers Market
FW Modern
(There are a couple things we’re keeping quiet due to surprising the kids, but I’ll post those when we tell them.)

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Lone Star Park – Horses!

Ben’s wish list included the hope of seeing a variety of animals and he’s been very fortunate to see many recently (the zoo, Sharkarosa, etc.) However, I don’t know if any were as beautiful as the race horses we saw at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. They invited us to come out and see the race horses (and enjoy a delicious buffet!) and it was such a fun day!!

We pulled up front and Stacey met us and lead us inside, up the elevator and into this gorgeous dining area overlooking the track. Just the view was worth visiting there! We had tables reserved right up against the window (as well as a tv so Ben could see close up everything that was happening.) It even had a sign that said “Ben’s Wish” and when we looked into the program Stacey showed us race four – it was named Ben’s Wish!! And we were going to go down to the track to get a photo of that race with the winner!

The only hiccup being Ben’s little sister thought this meant she could RIDE in the race, and her three year old self was not amused when I told her she couldn’t actually ride the “pony” she picked.

After reminding the kids that they must eat something healthy before hitting the dessert, cake, and ice cream bars we let them loose on the buffet. It was delicious – C loved the enchiladas, B loved the salmon, Kit and I both thought the build your own pasta bar was fantastic. (We went back for seconds – so, so good.) There was Blue Bell ice cream with toppings, a huge variety of cakes and pies, cookies, strawberries, trifle, cobblers, chocolate sauce… oh, and a really great salad bar but the dessert kept distracting me. :)

Then of course there were the horses! We came downstairs for the third race and watched it from the railing and it was breathtaking, seeing those powerful horses racing past. Even just walking down the path where the horses are lead towards the railing – all of it was stunning. The kids were enthralled. (Though admittedly they picked which one they wanted to win based on which they thought was prettiest, but we weren’t making any bets so that’s okay.) The winning horse came in and was RIGHT THERE, we could reach out and touch it, but they remembered I told them NO reaching towards the horses and they behaved. :) We headed back inside for some water then came out for race four, and just before it started Stacey introduced us to Scott, the president of the park. He asked the kids if they would be interested in watching the next race (Ben’s Wish) from INSIDE the track. Um, yes??!!! So off we walked on the track, crossed over and got inside the track (and let the kids play inside the starting gate, which I told them was not a bad idea to have at home to contain them.) They hopped out, the horses were brought in and we stood feet away as they launched out of the gate.

I told Ben that just for a second he should close his eyes and remember the sound of the horses as they raced past. It was something I will never forget, and I hope he always remembers. While many of these experiences are focused on the visual, we want Ben to use ALL of his senses to collect these memories. When he remembers these races someday I want him to “hear” the sound of those beautiful animals and think of the smell (ha!) and the touch and all of the ways he was able to experience it – beyond the visual.

Once they’re off they pull the gate out of the way and we needed to cross back outside of the track before they came around. It was so neat, and Ben had the best smile on his face.

We saw them cross the finish line and then got a photo with the winner and the kids were able to touch the winner! (Me, too, I wasn’t about to miss that chance.) Then we went back inside to enjoy the buffet again and eat way too much ice cream. J, our five year old, couldn’t decide if he wanted a sundae or cone – they gave him both. He wisely admitted later that he probably should not have eaten three servings of ice cream. :)

Oh, and I was too slow and missed a piece of pecan pie at the dessert bar, but when I got back to our table Stacey was standing there with the chef and a beautifully plated piece of pecan pie he had brought out for me. It was so, so kind (and so YUMMY!)

When we were back inside for the following races I had Ben do the same thing – I told him to close his eyes just for as second as the horses were getting close to the finish and listen, to the cheering crowd and laughs and excitement and to remember this moment and then open his eyes and watch the horses dash across the finish line. Judging by the grin on his face I think it’s cemented in his memory as a magical moment. :)

To everyone who made this possible and especially Stacey for reaching out to us and coordinating it – thank you.

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Camel Kisses & Selfie

The first selfie we tried the camel put its head on my shoulder! Then the camel tried kissing me, so we stayed a bit further back for the next selfie attempt:

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BFD in Flower Mound

photo 1After hearing about Ben’s story we were invited by the folks at Bar Fun Dining in Flower Mound to come enjoy lunch and some game adventures. The kids had a blast – almost as much fun as Kit had. ;)

They were very excited to see the welcome on the sign as we pulled up, and then Cory gave each of them a game pass card – swipe to play. Oh, they swiped! We pulled them away from the games long enough to eat, and they loved it all – that was the best tomato basil soup I’ve ever had, though I lost half of it to Livy and they were kind enough to bring me more. :) For dessert they brought out plates of cheesecake cannoli with ice cream, which Livy asked me to NOT share with her and she was quite confident she could eat it all, thank-you-very-much.

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It was a ton of fun and a wonderful, relaxing, yummy lunch. (Thank you, Cory & Molly! We’ll be back for sure to try that key lime pie-in-a-jar!)

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A Couple of Galveston and NASA movies

The kind Flight Director asked the crew of the ISS to say goodnight to B. Hit it full screen and take a look at the love feed from orbit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFihO6Xicd8

And I threw together a little slideshow of our Galveston and NASA trip, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lKl7iJehmg

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We Won’t Be Stopping

10410286_691261707586797_5828425792027922505_nTo answer a few questions we’ve been receiving…

But first, some background!

We have six kids, so historically family vacations aren’t exactly relaxing for us parents. :) Nor are they inexpensive, so until last year all of our trips were to stay with my parents (first in Germany* where they lived for many years, then in Kansas where they live now.) The grandparents love our wild crew even when we invade, and the kids adore playing with them and doing adventures.

*The Germany visits were back when we had just two kids, as my parents moved back stateside when I was pregnant with Ben so he’s not had a chance to go there. Plus, I could handle flying with two kids – more than that was intimidating to me.

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Links!

(I know I’m missing some interviews, please feel free to leave a link if you find some!)

WFAA original story

Follow up with Janet St. James

Katie Couric show

Alaskan Surprise with Janet St. James

Huffington Post

HLN

News Nation with Tamron Hall

TODAY with Tamron Hall

People.com

Albuquerque visit (each station had their own crew/story):

KOAT

KRQE

KOB

WFAA Six Flags visit

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