Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reading Day

Louie and I finally got to participate again in our public school district’s annual reading day after a 3 year break. We had a wonderful time reading a book about a sweet Newfoundland dog to two different classes of 2nd graders. Louie was as patient and loving as ever. The first picture is of Louie with his favorite teacher.  I'm so proud of my sweet boy!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

3 Years Together!!!

November 7, 2014 was the third anniversary of our Family Day.  The wonderful day that Gary and I met our amazing daughter, Natalie Wanhan, in the Jiangxi province of China. I knew from the very first moment I met her I would do anything for Natalie including giving my life for hers without hesitation. Since then I have seen this beautiful (inside and out) child touch the lives of so many others. Recently I was asked on a form to list at least one strength of my child. I could have written for hours, but I just wrote the first few words that came to mind: focused, detail oriented, curious, compassionate and wise. When I read the words back to myself I seemed like I was talking about someone in their 40s or 50s. Natalie Wanhan is an old soul. It is mind boggling how a four year old girl is changing the world through her deep love and compassion. In the last 12 months I have lost Gary and three other friends. All four of those people had life altering moments with Natalie prior to their deaths. She inspires so many others, including me, to be their best selves. I am so excited to see what the future holds with this phenomenal child in my life and on our planet. 

When I asked Natalie what she wanted to do to celebrate our 4th Family Day she said she wanted to climb Pinnacle Mountain.  In the picture below you can see the sign that says it is a 1 1/2 mile trip that is steep, rugged and strenuous.  I wasn’t anticipating going all the way to the top because I thought Natalie would tire out before then, but she surprised me (as she frequently does).  Once when I stopped for a rest Natalie said “Come on Mama, we can’t stop until we get to the top.”  


On top of our little corner of the world.

Words can not express how much I love this child.  I am the luckiest mama!

After our hike Natalie wanted to wear one of her Chinese dresses and have dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  Happy Family Day to my delightful Natalie Wanhan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Welcome to Tara West...aka the New Happy Haus

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity and big life changes.  Natalie started a new school, a new dance class, a new swim class and we moved to new home.  We are finally settled enough for me to be able to take a few minutes to post some pictures and catch up on what we have been doing.  

Natalie with her new teacher at her new dance school.  We changed schools because the old class had lots of children that did not pay attention to the instructor.  It drove Natalie and I both a bit crazy.  Natalie is a very focused child and did not like all the interruptions to her dance class.  She is enjoying her new school very much and is more passionate than ever about her dancing.  She says she is going to be a dancer when she grows up and she dressed up as a ballerina for career day at school.  She also says she wants to be a mommy, dress designer and a doctor/princess (NOT a doctor OR a princess, but a combination of the two :-).
We have been spending lots of fun time with Natalie's godparents, Donna & Mitch

At the end of September we moved into a new home. Before that we spent most of our waking time for four weeks working on it and were only going to the old house to sleep.  So when we moved in it already felt like home to Natalie and she had a very easy transition.  We are in the process of getting the Happy Haus ready to sell... something I never thought I would be saying since I always planned on staying there until I got to the age that I couldn't climb the stairs on my own. 

We spent most of the summer in Monticello with my mom and stepdad (aka Marm and Papa).  The four of us get along wonderfully and really enjoy each other's company, so we decided to buy a house together.  Natalie and I have been lonely in the Happy Haus since Gary died.  Our new house has plenty of space so that we can have as much togetherness as we want and still have lots of privacy.

Katie and Louie have also adjusted very well to our new home.  They love taking walks in our new neighborhood and running around in their new yard.  After 8 years for Katie and almost 7 years for Louie of living on a sloped lot they are really enjoying being able to run on a flat surface.  They spend much of their daytime hours outside or snoozing in the dog area of the garage.  At night they usually choose to sleep in my room.  

Our new house is called Tara West - named by Mitch.  It has four columns on the front that made him think of Tara from Gone With the Wind which he knows is my favorite book.  We have moved from midtown to West Little Rock.  Hence, the West part of the new name.  Natalie says we should call it the New Happy Haus, so it will likely have two names.

This picture was taken the first night Natalie spent in her new room.  She choose sparkly pink as the color for her new room and she is absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.  
We have spent quite a bit of time at the playground behind our house.  We usually take one or both of the Newfs with us.  The playground is completely fenced in so we can let the dogs romp around while we play.  Katie likes to climb on the playground equipment with us.  (By the way, Katie just turned 8 years old on October 29th - Happy Birthday Sweet Katie!)

Matching girls... Marm & Natalie

Sunset behind our new home

At school each child has a different job every week.  This pic was taken when it was Natalie's turn to be the flag holder.  It brought tears to my eyes to listen to the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance while watching my beautiful Chinese American daughter hold the flag.

For Halloween Natalie choose to dress up as Wonder Woman... I thought it was a great choice for her.  Not only did her black hair look good with the outfit, her bravery also was a perfect match.

We had a blast a the fall festival that was held at Natalie's school.

Natalie got to spend some time with two old friends

....and she got to spend time with new friends as well.

Dress designed by Natalie.  Strapless dresses are her all time favorite.

Last week I went on a field trip with Natalie's class to a pumpkin patch.  Natalie sat by one of her new friends and they had a wonderful time playing, talking...

and resting together.  Natalie and her friends are so sweet and affectionate with each other.   

On the hayride

Finding her way through the hay maze

Best Buddies

This is the pumpkin that Natalie picked

Feeding the goats

Mother, Daughter selfie...  We both wore orange in honor of our pumpkin patch trip.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodbye Summer; Hello School

After our New York and South Carolina trips we spent the rest of the summer traveling back and forth between Little Rock and Monticello where we spent time with Natalie's Arkansas grandparents.  Below is a picture of Natalie touching the tooth of an alligator at a Monticello bank.  It was her idea to pose like this.
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We also made a visit to Natalie's old school where she enjoyed seeing some of her old friends.
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Sissy came for a visit and the three of us drove to Louisville Arkansas to visit my 96 year old grandmother.  It was a very wonderful, special time.
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We also made a visit to the zoo where Natalie got to see her very favorite "animal” - an owl. 
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We enjoyed riding on the new zoo train.
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...and the carousel 
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Since we were traveling for 90% of the summer, Katie and Louie had been staying at Newfoundland Doggie Camp.  Natalie was so excited to have them home (so was I :-). She was especially thrilled to be reunited with her best buddy Louie.
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Soon it was time for orientation night at Natalie's new school.  We were both happy to find out that four of her best friends from her old school were in her class.  photo IMG_0191.jpg

Dinner with more wonderful friends, Donna and Mitch
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Natalie was nervous, but brave when I dropped her off for her first day at her new school.  The little fashionista wasn't thrilled about having to wear a uniform, but she was rockin' it anyway. I stayed for a bit and watched through an observation window. The students sat on a carpet on their assigned seats (Natalie was lucky enough to be between two classmates from her old school.) As the introduction to the class was going on one of Natalie's classmates mentioned her grandparent recently died. Natalie raised her hands next and then told the group that her Daddy died. She was very matter of fact about it. We still talk about Gary almost every day and regularly watch videos of him and Natalie together. Even though death is a complicated subject Natalie seems to grasp the fact that her Daddy's love lives on. There is a children's book about this called "Always By My Side" that Natalie frequently asks to read.

Natalie's new school is absolutely fantastic.  Natalie has been going for almost 3 weeks now and she is very happy there.  Her teachers are wonderful!  

Natalie was recently tested for both Physical and Occupational Therapy. She still qualifies for both so she will continue to receive PT and OT for another year. Natalie barely qualified in PT, so I am certain that this is her last year of that. She started back in swimming lessons recently and will start dance class next Monday. She is going to a new dance school and will learn ballet, tap and jazz (all in a one hour class). I predict that the combination of PT, swimming and dance will help Natalie's gross motor skills catch up to age appropriate levels very soon. OT is going to take more time and a lot more work. Natalie's fine motor skills are still severely delayed. However, both of her therapists are amazed by the progress she has made. She is great about paying attention and working hard. I am very proud of her. Next on Natalie's agenda: Dancing With the Stars. She asks me every day how many more days until her favorite show starts.