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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Opening Heavens Doors (4)


Dog Blog--Sampson's 1st Birthday

A year ago today my phone rang early with news from Opening Heavens Doors that our puppy had been born, and though we didn't meet or take him home for seven weeks, it feels like he has always been a part of our family. Just on the other side of his recent naughty streak and an ear infection that left him a little grumpy, Sampson is back to his old self. J and I notice more mellowing, a delight of the breed, and an eagerness to please us all. He is totally devoted to his kids. He followed them vigilantly on their Easter basket and egg hunts last Sunday--them on the golf cart, bikes and boat, Sampson loping and paddling after them like a circuit training course, sniffing their scent hound-style when they took off through the woods, and lying patiently outside their closed bedroom door while they glutted on the winnings. (He was the recipient of a lovely ham bone and many lamb scraps--better than chocolate for dogs!) 


While his relationship with the cats started out rocky, things are smoother today. This morning I spied Sophie weaving in and out of Sampson's legs under the bird feeder and Sporty and Samps were curled up in the bushes when I got home last night. Only Catty T, our elder stateswoman West Bay toothless rescue kitty who turns sixteen this year is not to be swayed--she exits our bed with an annoyed switch of her tail whenever Samps bounds in.


We have no idea of his stats these days. We will say that he is taller than Jonah was; we know this because he can graze at and rest his head on our kitchen counter without any effort. I imagine he won't grow much taller, but he is a lean, lanky guy right now so I think there is still weight to be gained. We are estimating him around 175 right now. 

His birthday began with poached eggs over dog food (he ate the eggs and will ignore the food until we're not watching later) much canoodling and affection from the kids, and now that they're off to school, some contemplative time on his bed. We'll take a walk later, there should be some pond swimming, and then tonight Piper has dreamed up a meatball cake for Sampson's celebratory dinner. Photos to follow. 


Happy birthday to our lovable, destructive, affectionate, slobbery hairy baby! 

in his favorite thinking spot


Samps comes in from a swim Easter Sunday 2012



Guest Dog Blog -- Sampson's sister, Remy

The dog blog has been on a little bit of a hiatus with all the hubbub of J in the hospital (see my Writer on Wednesday post about our amazing home town) and the kids' swim team season wrapping up, not to mention a heat wave in the Northeast that means most of Sampson's photo ops are happening at dawn or are simply him, passed out on the a/c vent in the bathroom. 

But I'll take a second to share his stats:

Tomorrow, Sampson (and his sister Remy, who is the guest this week) are 15 weeks old and Samps tips the scales at 43.2 lbs.

Biggest accomplishments are climbing the stairs to our bedroom and solo swimming in the pool. This includes the courage to leap in off the side, which has translated into joining any of his human siblings for a 'swim' when they're in the bathtub. Sampson is 90% housebroken and though he still bounds up to the under-ten set, he (mostly) manages to check himself before chomping. More photos and stories coming soon, but today his sweet sister gets the spotlight. Meet Nicole and Remy, living a parallel experience elsewhere in PA... 


My name is Nicole and I am the proud owner of Sampson’s sister, Remy!  I was so excited when our breeder informed me about Chandra’s dog blog and was completely shocked at how everything she described about Sampson was identical to Remy.  Several quirks that Chandra discussed made me laugh out loud because I felt she was talking about Remy.  Running around crazy, nipping at the poor little ones, favorite spot on the cool kitchen tile, hating the heat and running to the door right after going to the bathroom (if I was lucky enough to have it happen outside rather than on my carpet…), just to name a few.  Like brother/like sister!!!


I first became interested in Newfoundlands when I graduated from high school and got a summer job on a farm.  The owners purchased a Newfoundland puppy and I fell in love with the little guy!  Then over the past two years, I’ve been around several adult Newfoundlands and just could not believe their size and how sweet and gentle they were.  When I expressed interest in getting a puppy, my boyfriend said he would only agree to a large breed dog…so Newfoundland it was!  I discovered our breeder, Sherry Cook with Opening Heaven’s Doors, on the internet.  As soon as I began speaking with her over the phone, I knew that the only puppy I would purchase would be from one of her litters.  After a few bumps in the road and approximately a year and a half later, we were finally blessed with the arrival of our long awaited black female Newfoundland…Remy Alexa!


When Remy came home with us, she weighed about 14 pounds and was the most calm, quiet and shy puppy I had ever met.  For the first few days, she just laid next to her water dish on the tile floor in the kitchen.  We actually had to carry her into the living room in the evening to hang out with us as a family.  But it was never long before she wandered back to her kitchen spot!  And if only I would have known that this was the calm before the storm!  Remy Doodle came out of her shell and became a little firecracker with a big attitude!  Most often, during her antics, I would try to discipline her and then just start laughing because she cracked me up!


At 12 weeks old, Remy is just shy of 30 pounds!  She absolutely LOVES the water and this is by far my favorite trait of hers!  My boyfriend has a cabin on Hill Island near Three Mile Island and we can’t keep her from trying to get in the water.  She loves to hang out at Sandy Beach with all the kids and the other dogs!  Jumping from the pontoon boat into the water is still a little high for her, but once in the water, she just paddles away!  We have a baby pool in our back yard for Remy to keep cool and she just climbs right in and lays down whether the pool has water or not.  She also has a very bad habit (but quite funny) of putting her two front paws in her water bowl and splashing around in it until all the water is emptied across the kitchen floor!

Guess we shouldn’t have laughed at her when she first started doing it because now she thinks it’s funny…me, not so much!  And just this morning, while I was taking a shower, Remy jumped in and got completely soaked before I could grab her and get her out!  Our little Remy is a fruit and veggie freak…among her favorites are carrots, apples, apple peals, watermelon, watermelon rind, orange bell peppers, and of course ice!  Remy also loves chewing on piggy ears and bully sticks, which usually keep her occupied for about two hours and gives us all a much needed break!


Remy has actually impressed me with her excitement about exercise!  She loves to play tug of war and fetch a tennis ball and Frisbee.  Something else that cracks us up is the way Remy retrieves a toy.  We call it “Stealth Mode”…after we throw the toy, she sneaks up on it real slow with her head down and her tail straight back.  When she gets a few steps away from the toy, then she makes a quick pounce!  It’s hilarious!  We’re not sure if she’s just too lazy to run after the toy or if she really thinks that she’s being sly!  She was terrible with the leash at first, but she is getting much better.  When we exercise at night or are just hanging out by the campfire at the cabin on the river, Remy wears a glow light on her collar that changes between five or six colors.  Without the light, people trip over her left and right because she blends right in with the dark night!


Overall, I feel that Remy has adjusted quite well to her new family!  Since night three or four, she has been sleeping through the night in her crate in our bedroom…no crying or crate accidents at all!  She does great in the car.  Her first long trip (12 hours) was to Canada last week and she did excellent!  Only one accident in our cottage and she loved hanging out on the boat and in the lake of course!

At home, we’re working on our third straight day without any accidents in the house…I must find wood to knock on immediately!!!  Besides housebreaking, the only other issue is the biting…which I’m told will get better with time.  We understand that she’s a puppy and it’s just a phase she has to go through.  But our little guy Mason doesn’t appreciate getting mauled over when he simply tries to take one step!  And those little teeth are terribly sharp…our hands, arms and legs have the scars to prove it!


As a family, we couldn’t be more blessed to have Remy in our lives now!  She makes us incredibly happy (most of the time).  We are looking forward to a long, happy, healthy life with her!  Thanks to Sherry for bringing her into our lives!  And to Sampson and his family, good luck and we would love to have a family reunion at some point!  We will certainly be following Sampson’s progress on the blog! 




WEEKLY DOG BLOG--Sampson, 7 weeks

I have decided to add a new feature to my blog, a weekly entry for fellow dog lovers, puppy breath addicts and those with a high tolerance for the furry and cute. One of the reasons is that, thinking back, my early memories of our original Newf Jonah are pretty cloudy, lost in the haze of the fact that we made the crazy decision to get a puppy and have our first baby at the same time.

Prepare for a weekly feature that will include photos of the famously-hard-to-photograph Newfoundland as he grows (you can almost watch it happen) and a journal entry that chronicles this exciting addition to our family. The other reason? Let's face it: my littlest kid just turned four. It's been too long since I've had something tiny and helpless and endearing to slather with affection and obsess over. 



7 weeks, 16 lbs

In January, a few weeks after our Newf of almost ten years died, I happened to come across a farm near Harrisburg that was known for Newfoundlands, miniature silky goats and dried flowers, whose name was Opening Heavens Doors. I thought it might be a sign. Some of our dearest people and animals had recently gone to the other side, so anything that promised some kind of connection to this seemed auspicious. When I perused the website and found a female looked exactly like Dakota, the Newf I'd had since I was 16, the one who marched in Cornell's graduation alongside me and whose immediate acceptance of my then-casual-boyfieind, now-husband J made me think twice about him, sealed the deal. I contacted the owners, paid our deposit and we began the wait. 


In the past three years, my children have lost their grandmother to cancer, suffered the sudden departure Uncle Matty G, and then the loss of Jonah, their lifetime canine companion, their constant. I have been a little anxious about the idea of loved ones as 'replaceable' and so the waiting period was important. Waiting to hear if the breeding took, if there was a black male in the litter, and finally, driving to Harrisburg to pick out the newest member of the family. 


In the interim, I did exactly what I did when expecting Hayden: I read. Piles of books on dogs and training, though this time around I had the sense to get them from the library. I remember before our first child was born, I had been reading "The Baby Whisperer" and I took a long walk with my aunt, mother of 6 (5 boys and 1 girl) and told her how great things were going to be when the baby arrived, according to this book. There was even an acronym for it! E. A. S. Y.= Eat, Awake, Sleep, You Time! I told her how we would never nurse or feed our baby to sleep so he didn't get used to that as the norm, and how we would not need to change our life for our baby: the nanny whisperer told us to 'invite the baby into our life'. Which, in our appropriately selfish mid-twenties, included lots of job changing, frequent sports-inspired vacations, liquid dinners and constant moving. 

I remember my aunt very politely, gently said something along the lines of 'wait and see when he gets here'. Which, when it happened, turned our lives upside down and created a complete 180 in our parenting views. Invite him into our lives? We had planned a surf trip to the Bahamas for weeks after our due date, reasoning that one of us could hold the newborn in the shade, and then we'd swap. We were so anxious to show everyone that a kid wouldn't slow us down or change us. As the plane ticket came and went, we found ourselves in the NICU at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, praying for the life of our first born, making promises that included never seeing the ocean again if he would just survive. (You can read about this story here.)


The books I checked out this time around, about adding a hairy, four-legged addition to your family or pack, were surprisingly familiar--The Dog Whisperer, and Natural Puppy Rearing. If you subsituted 'baby' for 'puppy' in these texts, the polar messages were exactly the same. I inhaled them, checking in about what resonated and what didn't apply.


J scoffed a smidge at my need to revisit texts from the 'experts'. "We've raised two great dogs and three amazing kids in the last 15 years--why do you think you need to read books again?" But I did, just to reaffirm where I stood. I'd read parts of the text aloud, things that didn't resonate, 'tests' we were meant to put our puppy through, and principles that probably do apply when you are the Dog Whisperer rehabilitating pit bulls, but maybe not so much when you have an underactive, home-raised seven-week-old Newf on your hands, or in your family bed as the case may be. 

"Rust" (future Sampson) on left, Q-tip on right, 6 weeks

Choosing Sampson was easier than I had worried it might be, and we wanted to do it quickly so there was no sadness or second-guessing. Taking both was not an option--whoever didn't come home to us was going to a baker. Both boys were on their stomachs on the cool tile floor, front paws outstretched, back legs pointed behind them, in tiny little Superman position. Both would have made great additions to the family, but we chose the sleeker, 1 lb heavier boy on the left.

The several hour ride home, despite the nail in our tire, Piper clipping her neck in the clasp while trying to don Sampson's collar, and Hayden losing privileges for taunting a cross-legged Max with hissing 'pee' sounds and Sampson snoring away was pretty good too. 

Piper, Hayden and Max take turnsAt home, our first night was surprisingly smooth. We sat out in the late evening air and let Sampson and our cats get a gander of each other, and then he wandered into his little spot in the ktichen and passed out. 

Sampson and "hedgie" acasa


I had these expectations that we would co-sleep with our new puppy--we still have a musical beds schedule with most of our kids, and Jonah certainly enjoyed his years in the 'pile of puppies' style of family bed. But for whatever reason, Sampson was cooler and more comfortable in his own little spot by the a/c vent and an ice cold stainless bowl of water  in the corner of the kitchen. 

So J and I went up to bed, feeling pretty smug. He had gone to the bathroom several times outside, had lolled in the kids' arms the whole car ride home. No accidents, no crying. I remarked that I felt about him like I had when bringing my babies home: I loved them on principle, but didn't feel like I knew them yet, and I lived in quiet fear of The Night and all of the unknowns it might bring. With Hayden, it was months before he came home, and Max was such an easygoing little fellow that I didn't have a dreadful newborn night until I brought home my third, Piper. Piper and Mama, April 2007By your third kid, you're supposed to be seasoned. You're supposed to know better than to feel like a cocky pro on the maternity ward when your little angel (left) sleeps all through her first hours of life and by god, you're supposed to know better than to rush home. But I didn't. I begged to be discharged at less than 24 hours, and took a borderline jaundiced Piper home to meet her brothers and even did some gardening.

But when night fell, and her thready wails began, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I call all my friends who had three or more kids and hold the phone up to her for a diagnostic, not only did I call my Labor and Delivery nurse friend on the West Coast, but I actually called the staff at the hospital that I had campaigned to be discharged from, and suggested I bring her back. Just in case, you know, she was crying because there was seriously something wrong with her. I swear you could see the eye-rolls through the phone. 


So our first night with little Sampson, J and I went to bed with a small amount of terror in the pit of our stomachs. It wasn't long before I noticed he was gone. J slept much of the first half of the night on the kitchen floor beside the puppy because of Sampson's penchant for putting his whole face in his water bowl while sleeping. I'm not kidding, (photo at end,) and upstairs, I fretted about the peaceful silence, the calm before the storm, anticipating the moment that the howling would begin.


3:36 am: you would think harbor seals were being slaughtered downstairs. I took a shift on the floor wondering when was the last time I scrubbed the baseboards, J took a second, I took a third, he took a fourth, and finally at 4:45, little man was up for the day. I carried him outside for the summer dawn chorus of birds and did some halfhearted weeding in my pajamas while he got into some determined grass sniffing. 

Despite the lack of sleep, our first full day has been an early summer delight. Sampson and Piper watered the lima bean garden before she went to her final day of preschool and the heat index got so high that our panting black woolly bear caterpillar had to stay inside with the AC running. Atticus and Sampson face off


Early morning, Sampson and Atticus went Round Two. Atticus is our junior kitten of three cats, 2 years old and full of attitude and machismo--he took a soft paw to Sampson's downy cheek in their first few minutes together, and then has made a point of following us everywhere, and then scampering ahead to flop in our path and flick his tail, just so we're clear that he's really annoyed. Shades of toddler Max's fantastical "Ben 10" rage-transformations when baby sister arrived on the scene. If I'd had more than three hours of sleep last night, I would find the video of one of these and post it. Lordy.  


Midday, 96 degrees in the shade, we took Sampson to the pool for his first swim. You'll have to ignore my Kenny Loggins thrift store sunglasses--it's crazy sunny out and I am in desperate need of a trip to Target for some more cheap UV protective eyewear, but until then, try to take me seriously in these. (My husband can't.)

Sampson was calm and relaxed in the water, and when Hayden took him in, even tried a few tentative paddle strokes. Could it be? We might finally have a Newfoundland, the famous water-rescue breed, who actually swims?!

First day swimming

Cheering squad of three


Aside from swimming, most of the day, Sampson has slept and eaten, gnawed and drooped his little head into the fresh ice cubes in the water bowl. We have done our favorite summer tradition of an evening walk with bikes and it fills my heart to have a dog along again. Piper and all of the kids are getting very good at the art of distraction, (chew a stick instead of the hem of a pretty 3T sundress,) and are taking my suggestion not to use the word "no" with his name seriously. The boys had three mini training sessions and swear he comes when called, can sit on command, and has mastered 'lie down and sleep'. 

Piper and Sampson make their way homeIt's dark again, and the kids are settled, J is home from work, and Sampson is showing off his puppy skill of sleeping, eyes closed, chin-deep in the water bowl. 


Stay tuned for more Sampson next week, when 73 members of the extended family arrive for a reunion, two-year-old cousin Quinn moves in next door, and we might try something really rigorous, like walking him with a collar and a leash. 


Favorites on Friday -- puppy breath

I warned everyone on my personal Facebook earlier this week that I would soon become one of those people. The kind who inundate you with photos of their pets and updates on every naughty little thing they do and general big-eyed photographic adorableness, because we just got word early Wednesday morning that on a farm near Harrisburg, our puppy had been born. I have been waiting for this like a pregnancy, since the loss of our beloved Jonah in January. There has been no time in my life that I have been without a Newf for this long, and it has left such a hole in our family. It seemed serendipitous that we found a farm called Opening Heavens Doors, with lots of kids, fainting goats and in-house Newfs that are bred but are pets/members of the family first. That they were expecting puppies this spring, when our grief might not be so fresh, seemed perfect. And now he's here. 

So prepare, blog followers, Facebook friends, and Twitter fans to be inundated with puppy updates and photos as though we have just had a fourth, very hairy kid.


LOOK AT THIS. Two days old, the most beautiful little bruiser and already loaded with Newfy smoochiness. 


Sometime in early June, hopefully in time for J's birthday, he will come home to our family, for a lifetime of couch lounging, pond-mucking, nature walking, and ridiculous canine spoilage. 


The Name...

We're in the process of choosing a name. In order to narrow it down, we decided to stick with the Biblical. Not because we're so churchy, but because his predecessor was Jonah.


Feel free to vote by leaving a comment either here or on my Facebook author page for the best name:


1.) Sampson-- Hayden actually picked this out years ago, saying one day he would like to have a Newf puppy named Sampson, and how it would be so appropriate since he would be hairy and strong. Drawback--the natural nickname for this is also the name of one of Hayden's buddies/hockey teammates.


2.) Levi -- because that's what that hot, nude hummin' and drummin' Matthew McConaughey named his kid. 

And also, a great nickname would be The General Lee. If you know us, well, you know the Hoffmans love us some nicknames. I can't count how many variations on the woman's name Margaret our son Max answers to--Maggie, Marge, Marjene, Marjorie... Bring on your ridiculous gender-bender nail polish controversy J. Crew


3.) Noah -- we were all originally drawn to this because of its similar consonants and sounds to Jonah. And because as a water rescue dog, a Newf could save you in a flood. But there are obvious drawbacks, like the fact that the first syllable sounds exactly like a word I might scream if I saw one of my boys chasing the other with the pneumatic nail gun. (This never happens.)


So bring it on--I want to hear your vote! And prepare yourselves, do whatever you need to do, block me from your feed, unfriend me, or if you want more, SUBSCRIBE, because the level of puppy cuteness around here is about to get downright silly.