Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Hill

After some much-needed rest, we woke Tuesday and prepared for an exciting day on Capitol Hill. We woke with no expectations of what would happen that day and in hindsight, I am glad that we remained flexible!

Madison was given new Champion t-shirts from Wal*Mart and Sam's Club when we arrived on Sunday- American Red and Royal Blue. The greatest thing about them was the fact that we didn't have to choose an outfit for the day! She wore a t-shirt with knit cotton shorts every single day- like a uniform, only cuter. So I could wake her 15-30 minutes before departure time and still have plenty of time for her to wake and get ready. I am now thinking about making her wear a uniform to school (we homeschool). That would really simplify my life!

We hopped on the bus with the rest of the ORANGE group and headed to the steps in front of the Capitol. Each kid took a turn taking an individual photo with the Capitol in the background. The bright summer sun was blinding us all. It didn't help that the steps were white. It also didn't help that the sun was reflecting in a pool of water directly in front of us. Poor Madison- there was no hope... she couldn't open her eyes to take the picture! So she has her head a little down and is squinting her eyes. I, her own mother, didn't even recognize Madison in the picture when I saw it!

After the kids took an individual shot, they all sat together and took one group shot. And then the Wal*Mart employees that were present joined them for another group shot and then the family members were asked to join in and we took an even bigger group shot! I can't wait to see that one... what a task for the talented photographer in charge. Roughly 250 people, trying to see every little face.

After the photo shoot we got back on the bus and headed to the Dirksen Building. This is the building where our senator has an office.

The bus driver was not able to drive through until we passed a security check- sniffing dog and all...luckily, we passed! He pulled up another block or two... or maybe three, I wasn't counting... and we all unloaded. We filed into the building after going through a security check (I had become a pro at those by that point).

Our boxed lunch was laid out in pretty rows on tables in the next room- I forget the choices but I got roast beef I think. And there was a drink choice and some fruit. I was disappinted that Barq's root beer was not a choice. I probably forgot to mention that addiction when we sent our registration form to Children's Miracle Network. We walked through to the next room and saw 30 or so round tables- each with a state or two listed- we were lucky enough to sit with the Champs from Minnesota, a lively bunch!

After we ate and visited, Orin Hatch was introduced and we all gave him a round of applause. He spoke for a few minutes and thanked us all for attending. He then took time to visit with the Utah Champion family.

Minutes later, announcements were made as each senator came in to meet with his state members. I had already contacted Roger Wicker's office and knew that he already had something scheduled during our luncheon... but a representative from his office came down and spoke with us and offered to take us on a tour of the Capitol. She asked us to give her a call after the luncheon to schedule it.

While we were talking with her, our US Representative, Gene Taylor, arrived! He is from Bay St Louis, neighbors with Sara F and her beach house. He was super nice- he stayed and talked to us for 45 minutes or so, longer than we expected! He brought a little gift for Madison- a box of crayons with an erasable activity fold-up sheet. So generous! They sang Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious together and then Madison worked hard on a color sheet for him to take back to the office. She tried to do a backbend for him but bumped her head on the floor (my fault for not catching her) and everyone on our side of the room heard it- it was so loud! Thankfully, no bump and no tears. Mr Taylor seemed very interested in our story so I gave him the quick version of Madison's hospital stay. He also asked about our occupations, where we lived exactly, etc. He also conversed with Sara F about Bay St Louis.

Mr Taylor showed Madison his folder for the day- outlining 4 or 5 meetings he had scheduled that day, one starting in just 10-15 minutes after our luncheon. He asked her to write her name on his folder. She did and also drew a picture of a bright sun! He loved that.

Al Franken was meeting with his champion family on the other side of our table while we were visiting with our representative. Wes introduced himself and told him that he was born in Minnesota and asked if he would be willing to take a picture with us. He readily agreed, scooping Madison up in his arms and bouncing her, acting like he was going to drop her- she was giggling and laughing- loving every minute! I invited Mr Taylor to get in with us and we took a group picture (altough a little blurry from the movement). We thanked both of them and took a few minutes to say good-bye. They were both very friendly.

As the luncheon was winding down and people were starting to load on the bus, Madison took a few pictures behind the podium and in the big senator seats.

We took the bus back to the hotel room and called Senator Wicker's office. If we were going to take a tour of the Capitol it would have to be done quickly since we would have no free time on Wednesday. The intern took the message and told us she would call right back. And she did! 10 minutes later we were hailing a taxi out front! Our Ethiopian driver was the best. I wish we had more time to visit with him. He dropped us back in front of the Dirksen Building and wished us luck. We went through security again and took the elevator up to the 5th floor to Senator Wicker's office. His staff members were very gracious and spoke to Madison like a princess. Two of his interns took us back down the elevator to the underground. We went through another security check point and were forced to throw away the snacks in Madison's backpack. We were given special passes to clip on our shirt and then we headed for the underground tram.

This is my most embarrasing moment. I looked up and saw a young lady speed walking with a gentleman on the other side of the tram tracks- the gentleman was none other than Senator John McCain! OK- I was the idiot that yelled "HI!HI!HI!" 82 times and waved like a fool. It wasn't even a pretty wave- I probably looked like I was having a seizure. I was starstruck in DC.
I didn't even time to lift my camera (which was already in my hand) to take a picture. He was gone as quick as he came, like a flash of lightning. I am sure that I was the butt of the intern jokes that week.
But they were sweet to my face and didn't say a word about it. We walked a little further and took a seat on the operator-controlled monorail (installed in 1960). All 6 of us fit in one little car. The driver told us to hold on and away we went. In seconds we were in the Capitol building. Our intern tourguides did an excellent job securing a spot for us in the last tour of the day.

First we visited the House of Representatives after securing all cameras, phones, big bags, etc with the security room. The Representatives were not in session so we sat and looked around the room for 5 or so minutes. Wes said it was a lot smaller than he expected. One intern explained to me that the wall upstairs has 2 huge TV screens where voting results were shown. We couldn't see the screen- it looked like fabric covered walls but it was a shade lighter where the screens were hidden. It was surreal seeing technology mixed with so much history.

After that we headed downstairs to get in line for the American movie and Capitol tour. We had to say goodbye to the interns. While in line I looked over and saw the Helen Keller statue, representing the state of Alabama. I knew that I wanted to get a picture of it to show to Terry, Lindsey's mom.
(This is the info I found on wikipedia: On October 7, 2009, a bronze statue of Helen Keller was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection, as a replacement for the State of Alabama's former 1908 statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry. It is displayed in the United States Capitol Visitor Center and depicts Keller as a seven year old child standing at a water pump. The statue represents the seminal moment in Keller's life when she understood her first word: W-A-T-E-R, as signed into her hand by teacher Anne Sullivan. The pedestal base bears a quotation in raised letters and Braille characters: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." The statue is the first one of a handicapped person and of a child to be permanently displayed at the U.S. Capitol.

Terry told me later that they did get to see the statue and Lindsey was able to read the Braille quotation to them!

After I took a picture I got back in line with the others and we were seated in a large theater to watch a short video. We weren't able to sit together but were close enough to see each other when it was over. Madison and I sat in almost the very top row. I wanted to be able to exit quickly, and we did! We filed out into the hall and were assigned to a tour guide that had been employed there for 20 years! He gave each of us a set of headphones so that we could hear him at all times. It was a little difficult if we got too far behind, especially in the stairwells. But he had a nice booming voice that traveled well. He gave us all sorts of information about the Capitol. We saw statues, paintings, the stairs that the President walked to his inauguration, the spot where Washington was supposed to be intombed (although he is at Mt Vernon) and more things rich in history.

Wes' favorite statue was Reagan. He and Madison took a quick picture before we had to dash down the hall to return our headphones and end our private tour.

We were told that the gift shop was closing very soon so we hustled and had maybe 2 minutes to browse before they closed. Madison chose an American flag as her souvenir. I also got her a Capitol clip to put on her lanyard.

We headed back to the security room for the Senate and left our phones, cameras, etc to view the Senate side- they were in session and we had to be very quiet. We listened to two sides of an argument (I can't remember what they were even discussing) and then there was a long pause. We felt sorry for the pages who had to sit there and wait and wait and wait. We must have waited 20 minutes or more hoping that something would have been said or done, but no. Everyone on the floor was antsy and ready to move on, I am not sure what the hold up was. And there really weren't even that many people in there. Very few Senators that we could even see. It was all very confusing to me and I was hungry... and ready to go.

We followed the signs down the hall and out the back door. We were so turned around! We walked up the little walkway and saw the Supreme Court Building- very cool!

We ran into a Children's Miracle Network rep and he advised us to go across the street and meet up with Audrey, she would help us get a cab. Little did we realize that it was 5 o'clock and all cabs would be occupied! But we were patient and after a few minutes we were finally able to grab one. He dropped us off at Old Ebbitt's Grill, close to the hotel.

We were told we would have a 45 minute wait so we went to the bar and got a cold drink while we waited. Madison was beyond exhausted and was starting to have a tee-tiny little meltdown. Sweet thing- she had been sooo good all day. And I had to admit- it must have been a fairly boring day for a 6 year old that didn't understand the significance of Capital Hill.

She also knew that there was a swim party at the hotel and was devastated that had missed it. I promised her that we would eat and run over there. But the more she talked about it the more the conversation escalated and more guilty I felt about keeping her from a swim party- afterall, this was her trip and she was the reason we were there in the first place! So I offered to walk her back to the hotel and take her swimming. I ordered a little something for take-out and then Sara F and Wes agreed to do the same thing.

I took Madison to the room to change, and then to the hotel pool to let her swim her heart out.
She swam with Lindsey and Bella from Minnesota while I visited with Lindsey's mom, Terry. I told her all about the Helen Keller statue and the rest of our eventful day.

Lindsey came over and reminded her mom to give Madison the little things she brought for her- a pen and a coloring book. Then Lindsey offered to show me how she can read a book using Braille. I could have listened to her read for hours. She has the sweetest voice. I called Madison over and let her listen. She watched Lindsey's fingers zip across each line on the page. She was awestruck, utterly amazed.

After visiting a few more minutes, I finally convinced Madison to go to the room so that we could eat. The take-out was not as delicious as the eat-in but it was still some of the best food we had in DC! YUM-YUM!!

Madi finally snuggled up with her Daddy and fell asleep, dreaming of the White House and the possibility of meeting Obama the next day!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Miss Miss and Miss America

Since the day Madison was born, Wes has always called her Miss Miss. That is her nickname that he chose. When she was little we would joke at how funny it would be if she was Miss Mississippi one day.

Monday morning was a little rough on us. We were behind on our sleep and were all pretty sleepy when we woke. We got ready as quick as we could and walked down to the lobby to meet our group- but since we were 15 minutes late there was no group. Luckily we weren't the only family late and a couple of the Children's Miracle Network staff members were there to greet us and walk us over to the ESPN Zone!! It was just a block or two down from the hotel, not too bad of a walk.

We walked in and were greeted by several staff members and all of us were handed an ESPN Zone playing card. It was a 3 story building, with level one at the main entrance. Level two was one flight down and had the tables and big screen TV and scoreboard. Another flight down was the basement full of video games, air hockey table, basketball games, etc.

The place was pull of miracle children- some running around, a few in wheelchairs, one had a prosthetic leg and was running faster than all of the other kids- they were all having the time of their lives! Madison is not a morning person and just wanted us to hold her for a while. She wasn't ready to eat, meet n greet, play or anything else. We went downstairs to the basement and found a table with some other champion families and ate eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, sausage, fruit, etc. I was craving a Barq's or iced coffee. I made a mental note to stop at Starbuck's when we got back to the hotel.

After breakfast we were asked to go upstairs for a short program. On our way up we saw Miss America visiting with a few other children so we got in line. Just as we were going up to say hello a TV rep asked us if we wouldn't mind waiting one more minute while they did a quick TV interview. We didn't mind, Madison was still a little quiet and clingy so it would give us a few more minutes to warm up. The camera guy zoomed his camera over to Madison a couple of times but Madison looked sleepy and uninterested (that aired on the DC news). Just as he moved back to the interview Madison perked up- she watched Miss America in awe- she was totally star struck. After the interview Miss America came over and talked to Madison, took a few pictures and then Madison was really awake and ready to visit! They talked all about the rides at Disneyworld and she promised Madison a ride when we go!

The program was starting and we went to grab a seat.
We were stopped by Mrs Benny, asking Madison for an autograph in her Champion book. She loved that!

The room was full of champion families and there was no empty table for us. But Madison and I walked through and found one table in the very middle with only 3 people so we politely asked if we could sit with them. We all squeezed in- I was right next to none other than the Champion from Alabama, Lindsey. She was so sweet and soft-spoken. I immediately fell in love with her!

We were introduced to Mrs Benny, the dancing queen. She helped raise a lot of money at her Wal-Mart by dancing for 2 straight hours. They turned the music on and she gave us a short dance demonstration and boy was she great! I would have watched her dance for two hours and I would have paid to see it! She was a great sport- full of energy and smiles. We could tell that she was having a great time.

Country singer Mark Wills came on stage and sang a few songs- making us all cry. And Miss America came out and sang The Colors of the Wind beautifully. I think that she would make a great Pocohontas at Disneyworld.

Then we got a huge surprise- Screech (mascot) from the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball Team invited us to the Wed game! We all love baseball- so exciting!

We went down to the lower level and played lots of games. Madison and Amanda (DC) got together and rode the roller coaster game- it bounced them all over the place! They held on though! She played a skateboard game (and thought of Nellie and her new board), rode a Harley, threw some basketballs with Daddy, won a couple of car racing games and then went to check out the air hockey table. Miss America was there and Madison played a game with her! Madison is so good at that game and had Miss America swerving all over the place trying to keep up with her! :)

This was by far the highlight of the trip for Madison!

We said goodbye to the ESPN Zone and headed back to the room to wash up and get ready for the tour of the city!

Thanks to our friends with the MS Dept of Tourism, we had plenty of MISSISSIPPI pins to share with our new friends. Madison took a few minutes to give pins to her new friends. Some had their own state pins to share and they swapped. She pinned each new one on her Children's Miracle Network*Wal-Mart*Sam's Club Lanyard that she wore around her neck all week.

This was our first time to ride with our ORANGE bus friends. We sat near the front and were given a box lunch from the Corner Bakery (chicken salad sandwich again!)and a bag of snacks that could easily last a week! We loved driving by all of the monuments, historical markers and big buildings. We stopped at the Jefferson Memorial and the kids had the opportunity to run around and burn some more energy!

We saw the Pentagon and other sites from our bus window before stopping at the Lincoln Memorial. We all had time to walk to the top to see Lincoln (Wes and Madison took the elevator) and enjoy the view for a few minutes before moving on to the Vietnam Memorial, Wes' favorite. (Mine is the Korean War Memorial but we didn't have time to check that one out this trip.)

Our sweet driver dropped us at the Smithsonian- Natural History Museum. Again, Wes could have stayed for hours. I pushed Madison in the stroller so that she could use my camera to take lots of pictures, We checked out the gift shop and bought a CD with 250 DC pictures on it and a couple of science projects that we could do back at home.

I was dying to see some more of the American History Museum but we were all hungry so we walked waaaaaay down near Chinatown and ate supper at 5 Guys Burger- it was my first time to have a BARQ's Root Beer since the before our plane trip! The burgers were great and the large FF order was more than enough to feed the four of us! They threw the fries in a big brown bag. The sign on the wall told us that the potatoes used that day were from a specific farm in Idaho.

We walked what seemed to be 82 blocks (because we were so full). Wes took Madison to the room and Sara F and I stopped at a local clothing store, similar to Ross or TJ Maxx. She was looking for sandals and I was helping her. We also walked over to the bookstore for 5 minutes- just before they closed for the night. Bummer.

On the way back to the hotel room we ran into the Alabama family- they were headed to the swimming pool. I promised to get Madison and join them down there. She was happy to hear this news! I visited with Terry while Madison and Lindsey swam around and sat in the hot tub for a few minutes before we called it a night. We agreed that we would look for each other the next day at the luncheon.

The last surprise of the night was walking back to the room. Madison was showing off, doing cartwheels. She asked Lindsey's Dad if he could do that and he said yes! And then he proved it to us! Hopefully we didn't wake anyone with our giigles on the way down the hall!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday= SUN day

We tried to wake a bit earlier than the day before... although it was hard because we were still so tired!
We woke and headed down to the Corner Bakery down from our hotel. Since it was so late we decided to go ahead and eat lunch. Yummy chicken salad sandwich (I am on a chicken salad sandwich kick).

Since it was Wes' Day to choose our activities, we walked in the humidity down the mall and across the way to the Air and Space Museum. He said he easily could have stayed there for 2 solid days. (Personally, I could have walked it in about an hour and then headed to the American History Museum.) We saw so many amazing planes and rockets and such. The Wright Brothers' first flying craft was my favorite. Sara F and I were a bit surprised that there was no mention of the space shuttles that exploded in 1986 (Challenger) and 2003 (Columbia)... but maybe we just missed it.

After a few hours, we needed to cool off. The building was a bit warm and none of us do well in the heat. So we got a tasty treat at the food court. Still no Barq's Root Beer! I had not had one since we left Friday morning. But they did have a McDonald's Mocha Frappe! YUM. Nice and cold and good caffeine to keep me going!

We walked next door to the American Indian Museum but we had poor timing- arriving just 15 minutes prior to closing. So we literally ran through as fast as we could, soaking it all in. We definitely want to go back and check it out next time we visit. Madison liked the dolls and sculptures. They did a great job of displaying it all.

We stepped outside and agreed that we wanted to visit the American History Museum next (yeah!). I was curious about the bike taxis outside and asked a driver what she would charge us to petal us down to the museum. Ten bucks got us a 10 minute ride and saved us many minutes and sweat drops. It was well worth every penny! And a bonus to our little adventure. But I bet she was glad that ride was over. 3 adults and one kid= one hefty load!

Madison and I loved the American History Museum. Our favorite room was that of the First Ladies Ball Gowns. Madison's favorite was Michelle Obama's whit inaugural ball gown.

We also saw the Star Spangled Banner, Dorothy's red slippers, a huge dollhouse, Carol Burnett's Green "O'Hara" dress, Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs.

Madison also practiced the escalator- up and down holding my hand and then eventually doing it alone. She finally got over her phobia and forgot about the incident at the airport just a few days before.

We decided to go back to the room and check in with with CMN staff before it got too late. We met Patrice and Alison and got our name tags/lanyards and meal cards for the week. We also found out we would be on the ORANGE bus.

Children's Miracle Network and Wal-Mart had a great backpack for Madison with lots of goodies inside: a CMN pin, markers, water bottle, sanitizer (her favorite, haha), sunscreen, coloring book, more champion t-shirts, a DC cap, a CMN hat and more! It was like Christmas in the hotel room as she went through each little thing!

We washed up and walked a few blocks to Potenza's Italian Restaurant. We shared calamari that was out of this world! Madison ate a thin-crust pepperoni and black olive pizza (I helped her out). It was a nice, quiet dinner. I just wish we could have taken some yummy treats from the bakery... it smelled so delicious in there!

As we walked back to the hotel we passed some homeless residents setting up camp for the night in front of different businesses. A mission group was passing out food to each one. It was the only sign of poverty that I saw in the city while we were there. Made me appreciate my life and everything that I have.

It was very hard to go to sleep that night, we were all excited about the days to come. Were we really going to be able to meet the President? Would a senator or representative join us for the luncheon Tuesday? Who would appear at the ESPN Zone the next morning for breakfast? We knew there would be stars present but not 100% what to expect. I didn't even know what I was going to wear that next morning! haha

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Full day- even though we didn't start til after NOON

Since we arrived so late we decided to sleep in and get some much needed rest.

Wes was sweet enough to go downstairs and get us some muffins and coffee from the lobby Starbuck's. Personally, I am addicted to the Mocha Frappuccino and blueberry muffins. Madison likes the apple fritters.

While the girls showered, dressed and settled into the room Wes went down and asked the concierge for information on getting to Mt Vernon for the day. For $145 the four of us got a bus ticket to Washington's home and farm. The bus arrived in front of the hotel at 12:30. The driver drove through old Alexandria and pointed out several historical buildings and such. We arrived at Mt Vernon about an hour later and had the afternoon to see Washington's home, farm, burial site, and several buildings on property.

It was my second trip to Mt Vernon. Also Sara F's second trip. But Wes and Madison had never been. My favorite is the house- I love how it looks like stone on the outside. But really Washington built it from wood planks and covered the wood with sand- to make it appear to be stone. That man was a genius. He had a great house- the back overlooks the Potomac River. I could have sat on that back porch for hours enjoying the view.

I also loved the 16-sided barn. It was not there when I went summer of 1988.

We hiked the short trail from the 16-sided barn up to the main road. As we climbed we heard gobble gobble gobble coming from the woods nearby. I thought it was a speaker, fooling us into thinking that we would hear/see live turkeys. But we kept hearing them as we climbed the hill-gobble gobble gobble. At the top of the hill we saw movement in the woods- 3 or 4 turkeys were headed out. I followed them with my camera, determined to get a picture. I think all I captured was tree trunks and leaves. Pooey.

We also went through the museum (speedy gonzales style) and enjoyed the special effects movies- where snow drifted down on us at one point in the theater! Since Mt Vernon closes promptly at 5pm and we knew that the bus was picking us up at 5pm, we rushed to the gift shop to make a few purchases. Unfortunately we got there at 4:55 and only had a few minutes to look. But we found a few Christmas ornaments and a book on Mt Vernon and made it back to the bus just in time- and we were not the last ones to board!

We were so tired on the way back to the room... but really wanted a nice dinner. We had only eaten the muffin/coffee and a couple of cracker snacks at Mt Vernon so we were hungry. I suggested supper at Old Ebbitt Grill. I had eaten there a few years before and loved it. The gang agreed.

We shared an appetizer- Crab and Artichoke Dip- to die for. We devoured it.
I had the Chicken Fettuccine with mushrooms, red peppers, garlic, peas, roasted red onions, olive oil and romano cheese. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I ate until I was sick!

We walked back to the room. Wes and Madison got settled in and Sara F and I decided to walk around outside a bit. We walked closer to Washington's Monument and tried to get to the front of the White House. It was totally closed off- you couldn't even see the house at all. But some nice guards encouraged us to walk around to the back of the house to get a good view. So we walked and walked and walked some more and found a small group of people taking pictures. We also took some pictures. It was difficult since it was late and we had very little light.

We walked around a little more and called it a night. I am so glad she went with us to DC- everything is always more fun with a friend! We definitely made some memories that we will never forget.

We went back to the room and tried to settle down to prepare for another day of touristy fun the next day. It was hard because sweet Sara F got a bit sick that night... I worried about her all night, hoping that it was just a short-lived virus that the rest of us would not get!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Second Flight- Washington Monument

When we arrived in Atlanta Madison took a quick picture with the pilots and flight attendant. they congratulated her on her accomplishments and told her to tell the President hello.

We had already missed our 2nd flight to DC so we hung out for a while, browsing through the gift shop, getting a bite to eat at Chili's, stretching, etc. As we took the escalator up to Chili's, carry-on suitcases in tow, Madison got on the escalator first. She put her left foot on and then stalled... the longest pause ever... which you can not do on an escalator! Her left foot rose up and her right foot remained firmly planted on the floor. She ended up doing the splits and almost fell doing a backwards roll. I was terrified that her clothes or hair would get caught in the stairs! I panicked of course and grabbed heras she was recovering. I probably shouldn't have screamed. After that she made her Daddy carry her on the escalator.

After dinner I plugged my phone in to charge. The battery kept draining so quickly, even in airplane mode.

Toward the end of our wait I met a nice gentleman that works at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. I believe he said he did something with meteorology. But he travels back and forth to DC.

He reminded me of the places that we needed to be sure and visit- the monuments and museums and Mt Vernon. I told him that one of the reasons we were headed up a couple of days early was so that we could take a day to visit Mt. Vernon! The more I talked about it the more excited about it I got- I had not been since 8th grade and Wes had never been. We have talked about going for years and years but never made the time to actually go. I was so excited that we were finally given this opportunity! And I knew Madison would love running around and seeing the sights there.

We boarded the second plane and in a little over an hour later we started the descent- we looked out of our little window and saw the lights and activity in downtown DC! We saw the Capitol and the Washington Monument! Chill bumps covered my arms.

We landed safely and smoothly. Madison was sound asleep next to her Daddy. We forced her to wake and take her backpack until we could get to the stroller. All bags were found at a room next to the baggage claim area. Apparently they all arrived before we did. Better early than late!

We rolled out to the porte-cochere and hailed a taxi- a kind man in an SUV pulled over and loaded our 82 suitcases and stroller and we piled in. It was the first time Madison has ever been in a moving vehicle with no seat belt. She was fast asleep and was refusing to wake so I held her in my arms as the driver carefully drove straight to the hotel.

The bellman loaded all of our belongings onto a cart and walked us into the luxurious hotel- J W Marriott! It took our breath away! The chandeliers and the 5 star treatment!

I quickly checked in at the front desk (it may have taken a total of 45 seconds) and got our room keys. The bellman showed us the complicated elevator system they had and then showed us to our room on the 8th floor.

We asked for a roll away bed for Madison. While we waited we unpacked and checked out the view. WOW what a view! We could see the Washington Monument and other landmarks from our window!

Madison's little bed arrived and we all got tucked in- snug as a bug... it was almost 1AM DC time...

First Flight- Stop the Plane!!!

Well- due to bad weather in Atlanta, we were unable to leave Gulfport on time. In fact, after loading into the tiny plane our pilot announced that he would try to get permission for us to go back into the waiting area to stay comfortable. A minute later he came back on the speaker apologizing, we had to back out and give room for another plane to land and unload. So we were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for the OK to take off for Atlanta.

Once we took off, Madison got super excited- she watched out the window, wide-eyed and couldn't get over how tiny everything looked from way up in the sky! She did great and the attendant was very sweet, giving her a big bag full of snacks and a can of Cranberry-Apple juice. Boy did he spoil us! He also told us a funny story about one of the passengers they had on board earlier that day. Here goes...

A husband and wife boarded, on their way to the daughter's wedding in another state. The mother was quite stressed out and nagging the husband over every little thing and complaining the whole flight. When they reached maximum altitude the mother gasped and yelled for the attendant- she was screaming and on the verge of tears. "What's wrong Ma'am? How can I help you?"

"You have to stop the plane! It is an emergency!"

"But Ma'am, we are in the air, there are no stop signs, no U-turns, we can not stop now! What is the problem? Maybe I can help you?"

"My daughter's wedding dress! I left it in the trunk of the car back at the airport! We have to go back! I must go get that dress!!"

She was a nervous wreck and excused herself to the restroom.

The attendant looked at the father of the bride and gently gave this advice- "Just tell her- Honey, I love you. Say nothing else!"

The attendant was great- entertained us and handed out snacks and drinks to keep us happy.

Packing for DC

It took almost two weeks (I am a little OCD about planning and packing for a trip), but we got everything together and in suitcases for our trip to DC!

I packed a little of everything in each suitcase just in case we lost one or two on the way.

I bought a new hat for the trip, anticipating the hot sun beating on my pale white skin.

Madison was set since she had plenty of Champion t-shirts for the trip- but since she is so picky about her clothes I had to make sure she had plenty of knit shorts to last the week. The child does not like anything except 100% cotton, preferably knit. Gotta admit, I agree with her. She does not like to even wear jeans- they are not soft enough. UGH.

Flying out to DC today- Gulfport to DC with a short layover in Atlanta. Hoping that the weather will cooperate.

This is Madison's very first plane trip- I hope that she likes it! She has ridden a lot of rollercoasters and loves them so I think that she will do just fine.

Now... what did we forget?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is it true?!

All of our friends and the Wal-Mart associates gathered.

I placed Ted E. Bear, my camera and iphone with the bell peppers, hoping that was ok since the Wal-Mart manager, Robin, was standing right there!

Robin welcomed everyone and introduced Madison as the Children's Miracle Network 2010Champion of the Year!

She hugged Robin, Mama and Daddy- so excited!!! "Isn't that cool!?"

The Wal-Mart associates rolled out the banner with Madison's picture and she loved that!

Tena spoke for a few minutes- reminding us all that every penny that we donate adds up to a significant amount of money and it all goes straight to Blair E Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson! Madison whispered to her to tell everyone that she had Kawasaki Disease and was treated. She wanted everyone to know that she was very sick but Tena reminded all of us that she is all better now thanks to the great care at Batson!

She then told Madison that she would be traveling to... Washington DC! Everyone clapped and Mama and Madison high-fived when she announced we would get to meet the President of the United States!

Robin then took a few minutes to remind everyone to purchase a $1 balloon at the register! She also introduced Ms Barbara, a Wal-Mart employee that has been with Wal-Mart for 31 years! Robin then told Madison that we would go to the Disneyworld Resort in November! She GASPED for air and then gave Mama not just a high-five but a high-ten!!! then Ms Barbara gave Madison a special treat- a $500 gift card to Wal-Mart to buy a few things for our trip!

She ran over to Robin and Barbara and gave her a signature thank you hug!

Then Mr Ricky, the truck driver, brought over a box of goodies for Madison- a driver t-shirt, POLO, truck clock, truck toy, truck log book, speakers for her IPOD, coffee thermos, and a sucker because she is so sweet. He told us how proud he was of Madison and thanked her for representing MS. She gave him a big bear hug!

Robin thanked her and told her that they would all be watching her journey to DC and Orlando.

Ms Barbara gave her a Mickey Mouse balloon, Wal-Mart lunchbox and lots of little trinkets- toe rings, stickers, smiley face erasers, Silly Bandz and more.

I thanked everyone for joining us and supporting us these last 3 and 1/2 years. I shared the fact that Madison thought we were there for a fundraiser and brought her purse full of change to share... little did she know the surprises that Wal-Mart and Children's Miracle Network had for her!

She spent a minute going through her goodies and then was invited to help with the Wal-Mart cheer!

Clap, clap, clap, clap W*A*L*M*A*R*T, what does that spell? Wal-Mart!

While I participated in a couple of TV interviews (7 and 22) Madison was given a cake server and she cut the cake. She cut the first piece and LICKED the spatula!
The sweet bakery ladies took a few minutes to find a new serving piece and everyone got cake on cute Mickey Mouse plates!

Afterwards we joined Sam and the Arrington girls for a nice lunch at Newk's... we were still floating on Cloud 9 at all of the news and excitement- anticipating the trips and fun to come!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The day finally arrived. May 18, 2010.

I woke Madison and told her that I had a day full of surprises for her! She begged me to let her sleep 5 for minutes. 10 minutes later she finally got up and seemed interested in what I was trying to tell her.

I let her keep her pajamas on while we drove to see our friend Kristen at the beauty parlor. I told Madison she was going to have a special day and she could choose any hairstyle that she wanted and Ms Kristen would fix her up. She surprised us all and chose a piggytail do. Kristen curled the ends and added two matching blue bows, one for each side.

Then I helped Madison put on her blue skirt and the important red "Champion" t-shirt that Children's Miracle Network had mailed a couple of weeks before. Madi thought that we were attending a fundraiser for the hospital and I told her that they requested that she wear this shirt. She easily complied.

We drove over to our church, I told Madison we had to stop and check on something before the fundraiser. I saw the huge Wal-Mart semi-truck parked across the way and asked Madi if she wanted to look at it a little closer- she shouted- 'Yeah'! I asked her if she wanted a chance to ride in a truck like that- she said- 'well yeah'! We walked a bit further to the back door of the church and saw the truck driver, a police officer, a newspaper reporter and photographer talking. The driver, Ricky, asked Madison if she wanted a ride. Her mouth dropped open and said YES! They chatted a bit longer and he told her that she had other surpries in store and he wanted to drive her over to Wal-Mart see what it was all about.

We walked over, climbed in and got buckled. There were 3 officers on motorcycles and one deputy sheriff to lead us. Once we got half-way to Wal-Mart 2 other officers on motorcyles showed. They stopped every car on the way- blocking every intersection and drove us on through each and every red light. I wish I could get that treatment everytime I wanted to go to Wal-Mart! WOW!

She shouted in glee the whole way there. She also told us some funny jokes. Ricky told her had some gifts for her later in the morning. She laughed and said she hoped it wasn't WORMS! We laughed about that- he told her she told a good joke. In response she told him- 'yeah, I am full of good jokes!'

We circled around the Sam's Club parking lot so that we could fit in front of the Market side door of Wal-Mart. As we got closer, Madison started recognizing some of her friends- I rolled the window down so that she could say hello and wave. The first person she saw was Derrick from the Multi Purpose Center (where I host my Duds for Doodlebugs sale). She screamed and waved at him- so excited! Ricky pulled right up to the front door and we saw others that we knew. Kelly and her Dad, Sara, Marye, Harold and Jennifer, Herbie, Jen, Tina, Keith, Malissa, Amy, Nellie, Sam and Thomas, Julie C, the church staff, Ken, Renee, Natalie, Anna, Uncle Dave, Glo and Donald, Davi and Isaac, Amy and Connor, Amanda H., Denise and Tony, our Children's Miracle Network/ Batson Hospital friends- John, Tena, Jennifer, and lots of others. (I hope I am not leaving anyone out!)

I opened the door so that Madison could climb down- she made it to the top step and then jumped down! Ryan, the photographer at the Hattiesburg American was lucky enough to get that shot- with her little skirt acting as a parachute. I love that shot.

She jumped down and ran to Daddy to give him a giant bear hug. He presented her with a bouquet of daisies that he picked out. (Those flowers were pretty for at least 10 days! We displayed them in a special vase on our kitchen counter.)

Madison was encouraged to lead the way inside and have everyone follow. Since she wasn't sure where to go she walked in to the produce section until she saw a HUGE cake. That thing must have been 3' x 2' sheet cake! She stared at it for several seconds until Tena called us over for the big announcement.

To be continued...

Monday, May 10, 2010

getting closer!

Found out today that our announcement will be Tuesday, May 18th at 10am at the Oak Grove Wal-Mart.

I am getting so excited! I can't believe I have known this for 6 months and haven't told her. You know I am no good at keeping secrets from her!

She has guessed that we are going to DC but she doesn't know why or when... and she definitely does not know about the Disney trip.

Just 8 more days and we can start talking about it with her!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Just got the itinerary in the mail for the DC trip- oh how I wish I could tell Madi!

We hope to arrive 2 days prior so that we can do a few fun things before the event starts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The phone call

When I got the phone call that Madison was chosen as the Chamion for 2010 I was ecstatic! I could not believe that my sweet girl had been recognized in such a way! Of course, I knew that she was amazing... but I was overwhelmed at the thought of being a part of such a group.

About 30 seconds later, I admitted to Nicole (our friend at CMN that called) that I didn't know that this program even existed. I needed more information! So she told me about the program and the travels involved. As soon as I heard her say "DC" I lost my breath. And then Disneyworld... I knew Madison would lose her breath over that one.

I knew that I couldn't mention any of this to Madison. Since I was next door to my church I parked and let her visit with the staff while I used their phone to get more information from Nicole.

One of the hardest things for me is keeping it a secret from Madison. I am not good at that- we are very open with her and keep very few secrets from her, just as we expect from her. But I knew that this was a secret I would have to keep- if nothing else, to keep her from asking me 'when are we going?' a 100 times a day!

So we will wait patiently until the big announcement. I am not sure how I am going to get her there or what I am going to tell her. I know that if we tell her it is a fundraiser for the hospital she will quickly agree... she loves raising money for 'the sick babies'.

I hope that our friends will be able to join us in congratulating Madison and help her on this journey.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Madison's Story

Age 6
Kawasaki Disease

Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children

For most children, coming down with an occasional virus is part of childhood. When Madison, then age 3, developed swollen lymph nodes, bloodshot eyes, a rash and a 105.1 degree fever, her mom knew it was more than a childhood illness. Madison was rushed to Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children and diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an illness that affects less than 20 in 100,000 children in the United States. If not treated within five days of outbreak, the complications skyrocket: Kawasaki disease can lead to heart attack or become fatal.

Madison received immediate treatment. The required IV regimen normally takes around 10 hours, but Madison's blood pressure kept dropping dangerously low. Doctors had to stop, get her pressure back to normal, then resume the IV treatment. The procedure took 18 hours, followed by numerous visits and outpatient treatments.

But Madison, now 6 years old, is a survivor. She has less than a 2 percent chance of relapse and the only indication of what she's been through is her passion for life. After coming so close to death, she and her family have learned to live every moment to the fullest. Madison also gained a compassionate spirit, and she is always showing love to those in need of kindness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

About Walmart and Sam’s Club

Wal-Mart has supported Children’s Miracle Network since 1987. Since then, Children’s Miracle Network and Wal-Mart have worked tirelessly together to help children by raising money for children’s hospitals. Walmart and Sam’s Club associates, customers and members have raised more than $500 million for children’s hospitals during the 23 year relationship. This is the second year Walmart and Sam’s Club have sponsored the Champions program.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Champions presented by Walmart and Sam’s Club

Champions presented by Walmart and Sam’s Club is a Children's Miracle Network program that brings attention to the important work being done at children’s hospitals by honoring remarkable children who have faced severe medical challenges.

The Champions program designates a champion child in every state who has bravely battled a serious injury or illness. The champions represent the nearly 17 million children treated at Children’s Miracle Network hospitals every year. The 2010 champions have dealt with a wide variety of injuries and illnesses including genetic diseases, heart transplants and traumas, as well as life-threatening staph infections.

As part of Champions presented by Walmart and Sam’s Club, the champions travel for a week in June to Washington, D.C., where champions traditionally meet with their state senators on Capitol Hill, and the President of the United States during a visit to the White House. The family then travels to Orlando, Fla., for a second week in November. There, champions meet Children’s Miracle Network sponsor, hospital and media partners who all convene to celebrate a year of medical miracles during the Children’s Miracle Network Celebration event at Walt Disney World Resort.