Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rocky Valley Trail

This Saturday, Gary, Leah, Katie, Louis and I went for a hike at Pinnacle Mountain State Park on the Rocky Valley Trail.
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Pond next to an old rock quarry
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Louis says, "What? You want me to come up there? No way!" Katie says "Out of the way then bucko'; I'll pose with Dad. How come you're afraid to get on a little rock, but don't have a problem with climbing all the way up on the kitchen counters?"
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"See it's not so scary little Bro"
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The top of this little rock with Dad is more Louis' speed
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Leah takes pictures of her feet all over the world. This time she included me and Gary.
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Louis looking a little like a bear cub down by the river
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Pretty Katie
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View of Pinnacle Mountain from the lookout point on our trail
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I'm not sure if this the Maumelle or the Arkansas River
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Gary, Leah, Katie and Louis
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Leah's favorite Lichen
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Over the River and Through the Woods...

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The day after Thanksgiving my sister Leah and I drove 5 hours round trip to visit our Grandmother. The last time I visited her she mentioned that she wished I had brought one of the Newfs along. To fulfill my Grandmother's request we took Katie with us. I thought she would be the best choice of my two since she is a therapy dog, is more mature than Louie and is used to being around elderly people using walkers.

My grandmother is 90 years old and is doing extremely well. She is very independent and still manages to bake cinnamon bread from scratch to give away to people who are in need of a love-filled gift (Leah and I were fortunate recipients). Grandmother is also very active in her community and is always finding a way to help others.

When she met Katie, Grandmother said she had never seen a dog that big in her life. She is not much for indoor dogs, but I think she really enjoyed having Katie around for an afternoon. It was very strange to see Katie in my Grandmother's kitchen, but Katie just acted nonchalant like she had been there many times before.
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We had a lovely visit and enjoyed some of my Grandmother's Southern cooking. She made a special vegan lunch for me, Leah and my Uncle Brian.
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Guess who is Under my Chair?
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"Just Like Home"
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Katie wanted to lie near my feet under the table while we were eating. Later in the day when we took a meditation/nap break she laid on the floor beside the bed just like she does when I meditate at home. She is such a creature of habit even in new places.

Leah commented after we left that she had never met a dog as mellow as Katie. [Bonnie and Bill, if you are reading this, can you believe that??? LOL] Katie didn't start out this way. She used to be quite a wild child, but she is maturing into a lovely Newfie girl. The terrible twos definitely do not apply to Katie.

Thanksgiving at the Happy Haus

We celebrated Thanksgiving at our house this year. My sister Leah flew in from New York, my mom and stepfather drove up from Southern Arkansas and my Cousins Carrie, Jay and Adison (pictured below) drove down from Northern Arkansas. It was wonderful to have our little house filled with people we love and whose company we truly enjoy.
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Leah, Carrie and Adison
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The dogs did very well with Adison. Louis especially adores little girls so he was thrilled to have her around. Adison got very brave around the dogs and decided it would be fun to try and touch Louie's tongue. Louie, who is just about the most laid back dog in the world, was not at all phased by this. I asked her to do it again so I could get it on film. Louie is so black that he doesn't show up well, but my cute cousin does :-)


Next Adison fed Katie and Louie carrots.


Mom and John on their 17th wedding anniversary which sometimes falls on Thanksgiving Day as it did this year.
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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reading Day is Extra Fun When a Newf Comes to Your Classroom

Today was reading day in our school district. Almost 700 volunteers were asked to read a story to a classroom of elementary school children. The goal was to have every single class visited by a member of the community. Therapy dogs were also encouraged to attend although there were only a few participating. Katie and I visited a class of second graders at a school less than 3 miles from our home. There are actually a couple of schools closer to our house, but we were told that the need was greater at this particular school.

The school was in a beautiful old three story brick school building. It was very charming and its occupants were even more so.

When we first arrived we went to the media room to receive our instructions. There the media specialist introduced me to the most adorable little boy and asked him to lead us to our classroom on the third floor. The little boy was probably about 7 and was so sweet and well behaved. He struck me as being as well mannered as you would hope a 30 year old man would be. I asked him to carry my book so I could focus on Katie. When we reached our classroom I held out my hand to take the book and he extended his own little hand thinking I meant to shake his hand :-) So I shook his hand and then requested my book.

As we entered Ms. B's 2nd grade classroom the children's eyes got big at the sight of Katie. Waves of exclamation filled the room and Katie grew a bit uneasy. She had never seen so many children all at once. She let out a few very loud Newfie barks which seemed to shake the walls. This startled the kids a bit so I decided I must do something quickly to help Katie and the children relax. I asked Katie to do a down, sit and then shake just to get her mind off the situation. Then I put her in a sit stay and asked "Is anyone feeling brave enough to feed this big dog some carrots?" 5 hands immediately shot up. I left Katie sitting at the front of the room as I passed out a few carrot slices to each of the interested children. The teacher commented that her dog would never stay put like that. I went back to the front of the room and asked the children to come up to Katie one at a time. Katie gratefully and gently ate the carrots out of each their little hands. I asked "Does anyone else want to feed her?" Four or five more hands quickly shot up. More carrots were fed to the Newf and then I asked my question again and round three of the carrot feeding commenced. I think maybe only two children out of about 18 didn't want to feed her.

There was a chair for me to sit in to read my book selection, but I wanted to be near Katie, so I put her in a down, sat on floor and started reading with the kids gathered round.

Our book of the day? "Newf" of course :-) by Marie Killilea
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It is a precious book - perfect for their age group. The children tried to listen politely, but their attention was mostly focused on Katie.

After the story was read it was time for questions. One little boy asked the only question about the book. He wanted to know how the kitten had gotten buried in the snow. So, I had to explain blizzards to a group of Southern kids who are lucky to see 1/2 an inch in a year of the white stuff.

Next the kids wanted to tell me about their pets. One little boy said he had a cat like Katie. I jokingly said "that big?" He nodded. I just let that slide. Then I got the usual questions like, how much does she eat, how much does she weigh?

I had been wiping Katie's mouth frequently, but the slime got away from me once near the end of our visit. Katie decided to christen the classroom Newfie style and did a very thorough job of slinging slime in at least a 5' radius away from her head. "Yuck" & "Gross" they exclaimed. The teacher was really cool about it, "Kids it's no big deal". I explained to them that Newfs are water dogs and have flappy loose lips and webbed feet to aid them in swimming.

One little girl asked "Are you visiting the other classes with Katie?" "No," I replied "your class is the only one that got to have a visit from Katie. I have to take her home now and go to work." [Let me preface this next part by saying that I was wearing nice black wool pants with a red sweater.] Another little girl said "Where do you work? Red Lobster?" I chuckled a bit on the outside, inside I was rolling on the floor with laughter and I laughed for the rest of the day every time I thought of this question. I guess she associated my red top with Red Lobster. I told them a tiny bit about where I work and started saying my goodbyes. I really didn't want to leave. I would have happily spent the whole day with that group of extremely sweet and well behaved children.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Autumn Days Are Here Again

I am happy; I swear.
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I'm just really good at giving the Newfie sad face. See?
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A little dino-bo distraction is always good.
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Back to looking pitiful...
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Now that the weather is cooler we are enjoying playing outside. But as much as we love to hang out in the backyard we usually won't go out unless Mama or Daddy comes with us.
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Mama's got 'nummies and we want some.
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Happy Autumn EveryNewfy!
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Sunday, November 16, 2008

What the Kids Do When Mom's Not Home

Gary had Veteran's Day off, but I did not. Here is a glimpse into Gary, Katie and Louis' day. Not too exciting to most perhaps, but I always have fun watching videos of my sweeties.





Making the Most of a Mandatory Memphis Mission

I am just now getting a chance to write about a trip Gary and I had to make to Memphis on October 29th.  Some of our adoption paperwork was about to expire so we were required to drive to Memphis to be re-fingerprinted by the Department of Homeland Security.  I am not going to go into all of the tedious and highly annoying details, but of course since our government is not always known for being efficient, well organized or caring, we ran into some difficulty.  To summarize, they almost forgot to invite us to Memphis in time to get our fingerprints before a very critical document expired.  When prompted by me to send us the invitation they sent me an email saying we would receive an invitation to be fingerprinted on 10/29.  By 10/27 it hadn't arrived and I was beginning to panic.   When I inquired about it I was told by email to just bring the first email as proof.  When we arrived we were chastised by the person in charge, "Why are you here today?  Your appointment is for 11/6."  We show them the email.  They look at it in complete disbelief.  "But your appointment is for 11/6" they repeat.  Arghhhhhh!  Do we have to drive home and come back again and each miss work for another day?????  Thankfully, after much shaking of heads and clucking of tongues in disapproval they decided they would allow us to be fingerprinted on the day when they originally told us to come. But as punishment for our inability to read their minds we had to wait in a 55 degree room for three hours before we could have the honor of having our fingerprints taken to show that we are STILL NOT criminals.  I didn't mean to go into so much detail, but once started it is hard to stop.  I will satisfy myself by not describing how incredibly rudely we and several other U.S. citizens were treated by the person that took our fingerprints.

Now that I got that out of my system :-) let me share the rest of our day which was truly lovely.  On the drive over we got to spend 2 1/2 hours talking and enjoying the scenery.  We stopped at a cool rest stop just inside of Tennessee and took a few pictures.

Mississippi River Bridge
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Welcome to Arkansas
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The King
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B.B. King
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On the way home with just a few hours to go before dark we stopped by Louisiana Purchase State Park which is located in Arkansas and contains a marker for the exact spot where the survey for the Louisiana purchase was started.  That in itself is fascinating, but it is made even more appealing by the fact that the monument is located in the middle of a beautiful swamp.  We were the only people at the park when we visited.  It was so peaceful.
In the short video below I tried to capture some of the lovely sounds in this enchanted place. You will also see the monument I mentioned.  We visited during the dry season; in the springtime this area is completely flooded.


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Turtle Caught in a Illegal Trap - Gary and I saw this guy and felt so badly for him.  We would have tried to let him out, but the trap was too far away from dry land.  Gary suggested we call a wildlife officer, so on the way home that's what I did.  We were so relieved to hear that someone was going to go out right away to save this turtle and get rid of that trap.  They confirmed that it was definitely an illegal one.  It was nice to end our day by having a positive experience with someone who works for the government.
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Below are a few pictures from our first trip to L.P. State Park which were taken over 2 1/2 years ago when we made our first trip to Memphis for our adoption process.

A closeup of the monument
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The Swamp During its Wet Phase
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Gary Strolling Down the Lane
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Interesting Plants
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Entrance to the park
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Beautiful Boardwalk
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Swamp
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Tree Tops
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our Adoption is Still Crawling Forward

Moving at a snail's pace is better than not moving at all, but it does seem like it will still be a long time before Natalie comes home. Unless the pattern of the last couple of years changes it will be about 2 more years before we travel to China. We made the decision to adopt in February of 2005, so this journey has been a long one. Our Log in Date is July 22, 2006. This month the CCAA in China covered just two days of LIDs: February 16th and 17th, 2006. Just a little over 5 months between our LID and the most recently referred. Someday...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More About Our Hospice Visit

I wanted to write a little more about my Hospice experience earlier this week. It's cathartic for me to write about it and I also thought that perhaps other people might become interested in volunteering if they know more about what it is like.

One woman Katie and I visited was a little out of it...probably from pain meds. I asked her from the doorway if she wanted a visit from a large dog. She didn't really respond, but didn't seem opposed to us coming in. Her brain was functioning quite slowly and it took her eyes a while to send her brain the message of what she was seeing. After many seconds had passed her eyes got huge and I realized she was finally "seeing" Katie. I immediately started reassuring her that Katie was very, very sweet and the woman relaxed right away. She very slowly told me that she likes dogs. The woman was so frail and small in her hospital bed. I wanted so badly to embrace her, rub her back and kiss her cheek. I satisfied myself with rubbing her arm and trying to send her every ounce of loving energy that I could. I swear she was soaking it up. I could see it in her sweet face.

There was another lady, probably around 85 years old, who got very flustered when she tried to talk. Her brain also wasn't working well. She said "I'm sorry I'm not making sense". Without thinking I reached down and grabbed her hand and said "Don't worry about it sweetie. It's just fine.". I immediately mentally chastised myself a bit for calling her sweetie. I was hoping she didn't take it as me being condescending... needless worry on my part. She was so happy to hear that - she had been quite embarrassed about not making sense and was glad to hear my reassurance. She squeezed my hand tight, told me I was an angel and then kissed the back of my hand. How could my whole mindset not change after that. We held hands for the rest of the visit.

It's difficult to be with people who are dying, but I am really looking forward to going again next week. If Katie and I can give these people even a tiny bit of comfort I want to do that. Also, I feel that these people have a lot to teach me. Tuesday night alone was one of the most important lessons of my life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

First Hospice Visit

In October I spent 2 full Saturdays going through training to be a volunteer with Arkansas Hospice. Katie and I had taken the therapy dog test at their facility earlier in the year and they asked if I was interested in volunteering with them. I said that I would give it some thought. I knew a little bit about Hospice, but I didn't realize the full scope of their work. It is an amazing organization that helps people with terminal illnesses to live out their remaining days with as much physical, emotional and spiritual comfort as possible. There are teams of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, nursing assistants and volunteers that work very hard to help the dying live well.

Tonight Katie and I had our first therapy dog visit at the inpatient center of Arkansas Hospice. It was truly a wonderful experience for me, Katie and the people we met. When we walked in we saw the nurses first. They surrounded Katie and gave her lots of nice petting. Then Katie and I walked from room to room asking if people were interested in a visit from a large dog. There were about 14 patients there; we saw about 10 of them. Two were sleeping and two were not interested in a visit. Several patients had family in their rooms so Katie visited with them also. We were told by Therapy Dogs International that the therapy is not just for the patient; the families and medical staff can usually use some cheering up too. We found that to be very true tonight. In some cases the patients were not coherent enough to pay much attention to a 110 pound Newf sitting in their room, but Katie sure brought some smiles to their families' faces.

Katie was beautifully behaved. She was completely silent the whole time and extremely calm. She got used to her surroundings very quickly and even did a 10 minute down stay at the end of the visit while I completed my volunteer paperwork. I am so proud of her and pleased that I can share my angel with other people.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Ultimate Counter Surfer

Earlier today, my mother's intuition kicked in when I heard a tiny little noise coming from the kitchen. I was not prepared for the scene in front of me. How could anyone be?

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My heart definitely skipped some beats as I visualized my baby falling off that counter. I told him to "Wait" which he is really good at and we quickly snapped these pictures.

Our Louis is normally quite an angelic little puppy and is not a counter surfer; however, his 9 month old hormones are in overdrive and he has started doing some strange things lately. There was a jar of honey on top of the microwave...I guess that's what he was after. Little goofball :-)

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It was easy for him to get up there by hopping up on the window seat - not so easy to get down though. Don't worry. We very carefully lifted him off the counter and gently set him on the floor. Then we set up a barricade to avoid a repeat performance.

Yesterday Louis carried about 20 toys outside; he usually only plays with one or two a day. Today, he is counter climbing. What will tomorrow hold - yikes!?!?!?
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