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Chandra's Blog

 

Wednesday
Feb122014

This Mother's Prayer to the Gods of Winter

 

 

Dear Gods of Winter, 

 

This year I have exclaimed over the beauty of your sparkling abundance,

I have photographed the crystalline wonders of your creation,

I have sled with small children in the wake of your glory.

I have dutifully shoveled the fruits of your labors, 

 

even bringing your pearlescent bounty into my home

to warm upon the cockles of my stove

(So that we might flush our toilets.)

 

Now, this eve, as I anticipate your return again,

I BESEECH you

bring your snow!

 

Bring enough that we might have glistening, unblemished coverage

over the landscapes,

and the golden marks outside the door left by the dog

(and the boys last week)

 

I am but a humble writer who has lost four days

of the solitude in which I strive to hone my craft.

But as such, I am willing,

to lay down once more, 

past the 5:50 automated call from the school

and the 6:20 iPhone alarm 

and watch another day of productivity

disappear under the layers of your alabaster magnificence.

 

I pray, if you must,

if it pleases you,

bring an excess of gleaming, pearlescent whiteness!

So that their school may well be canceled

and we all might be inspired to sled once more

Upon the neighbor's frosty hillside

And skate upon the glassy glory of your frozen waters.

 

 

But Gods of Winter, I throw myself at your mercy and 

beg

oh, I beg you

 Leave your icy daggers, your fallen limbs, your cursed power outtages behind!

So that tomorrow,

and only tomorrow

I might revel in your glory, and watch

the milky piles of your majesty 

(from indoors)

and also perchance "The Sound of Music"

(the real one, I vow, not that Carrie Underwood shit)

with my daughter. 

 

Amen. 

 

* *** * 

the housebound Hoffspring, last storm, 2014

Tuesday
Dec172013

Pay it Forward

My sister and I typically do our weekly grocery shopping together; it is environmentally friendly to take one car, and makes things infinitely more pleasant, especially with kids along. Today was no exception and we had two in tow, her Harper and my Pip, home with another ear infection. Harper was wearing a chunky knit cap over her blonde wisps, her formal Christmas dress and running through the aisles singing Christmas carols. Pip had her hooded sweatshirt pulled up like a red gnome's cap to disguise sickbed hair that neither of us had the heart to tackle before we left and a little more shuffle to her step as the ibuprofen kicked in.

It was a typical Tuesday and we were planning menus for upcoming events, searching for a dropped coupon, debating the merit of trying dairy-free or gluten-free first to help prevent Piper's ear infections, and chasing down Harper, when something surprising happened. 

Harper (photo credit: Nick Nowak)

I was off tracking down cocoa for our upcoming caroling expedition, and as my sister tells it, an older gentlemen who they had passed several times was watching Harper's antics, and Pip's gentle big-sisterly shadowing. Harper had started toting around a stuffed reindeer from the seasonal section and by the time they got to the dairy department, the man finally approached my sister.

He handed her a twenty dollar bill, and asked to please buy Harper the stuffed reindeer she was carrying, and to go back for something for Piper as well. My sister told him it wasn't necessary (he had no way of knowing how, unlike her older sister, Harper has no trouble parting with toys before leaving stores) and tried to give back the money. The gentleman was joined by his wife, who explained that they had no young children, and even their youngest grandchild was 25, and there was nobody to buy gifts for. Harper, in her party dress, exuberantly caroling throught the Giant Food Store, was the epitome of the Christmas spirit. 

 

My sister asked for their address, to share a card, or express thanks, and they shook their heads.

"Just, what is it you young folks say, pay it forward," they said, and then they were gone, smiling at the girls clutching their new reindeer and stuffed moose toys.

I find myself so heartened by this tiny act, excited to discover the opportunity to give back, and still moved to tears by the story the cashier who witnessed this shared--about the stranger who paid for the $500 dress uniform for a dedicated marine whose credit card wouldn't go through, and asked only for him to write her every year and let her know he was okay in return. 

These threads of kindness create the fabric of our humanity and feed our innate desire for goodness and connection. If you have an idea on how we could repay this touching, very unexpected kindness, or a pay it forward story, please feel free to share it here. 

Friday
Dec132013

12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 2 -- 2001

Announcing this year's miracle -- 2001

2001 -- I have written plenty on our firstborn, Hayden, and how his unexpected arrival and the medical hoopla, diagnosis and uncertainty colored so much of that time. But we weren't alone in reeling when the holidays rolled around, December of 2001. I feel compelled to write about that almost every anniversary. 

At the time this photo was taken, we were feeling pretty grateful to have him home at last, to have his first surgeries behind us, to have avoided others, to have finally ditched the feeding tube over Thanksgiving, and to be feeling like we might even be finding our parenting groove. 

I remember the certainty that the worst case scenarios some doctors predicted for Hayden would not come true, and knowing this tiny person in a way I never expected to, and knowing him to be a fighter, someone special. So many people, both back then, and later, have remarked on Hayden's 'old soul'. You can see it even here in his eyes.

I remember also a sense of optimism that our larger world would recover from what had happened the previous September, and we were all forging new connections, finding strength we didn't know we had, and appreciating the small things.

It was certainly true at our house that year. 

* *** *

Thursday
Dec122013

12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 1

As my favorite holiday, I take Christmas very seriously. I have written odes to my favorite books of the season as well as my favorite songs.

And every year I try to tone it down a little more, so that I don't miss the magic in the moment. The first and most obvious cut to go should be cards. It's not like the old days--we have social media to keep us connected, for better and for worse, throughout the year. So why do I keep creating, sending and cherishing the dying artifact of the annual holiday card, preferably with photo, with or without letter? I wrote this post about Christmas cards a few years ago. But I find I cannot let them go, and I keep circling back to the idea that the series of cards tells the story of a family in flip-book time lapse style.

My mom saved every Christmas card our family ever received--she actually made whole albums each year of our received cards, and sent out over 500 of our own every year. (In fact, if your family was tight with ours in the 70s-90s, and you want a good archive of cards, come see what didn't get destroyed in the great fire of '91.) I can still picture my mom dutifully inscribing and hand-addressing and calling out commentary to my dad--"Did we get one from the Fraziers last year? What about so-and-so at the office?"--over the second half of every Thanksgiving weekend. 

Whenever I try to scale back Christmas prep and stop myself from making a card, I imagine our growing collection of annual cards that tell the story of our own little family over the years. I'm scared to miss one year in part because what might that gap say about our family narrative? For example, though 2011 was pretty shitty and I almost didn't care to capture it , still we did a card, if only to say, we're still here. Still standing. I don't want my kids to look at the display of our own cards and see the space, and notice what's missing. Maybe that is how all traditions become entrenched?  

Regardless, I thought as we head into the 12 days of Christmas countdown for this year, it would be fun to go through our cards over the last 12 (13) years.

Christmas 2000

 

Our first Christmas card was handmade. Not coincidentally, this was also our first and last holiday without kids underfoot. We had recently moved from Breckenridge to the town where we live now, and in a vain attempt to save my parents' marriage, had just started renting the house my father had bought for himself in anticipation of moving out. I was starting my own event planning company, and J was working for a venture capital firm, and we rattled around in too many rooms, in a house with historically bad ju-ju, with one dog and one cat, and tried to find our stride in this new chapter.

Back then, I had endless hours to handtie raffia knots on vellum overlays, and I wanted our first cards to be special, reminiscent of our wedding program, which also involved a lot of raffia, vellum, handmade paper and muslin. I was really into raffia and vellum. 

 

I love this photo, even though you can't see it very well under the vellum here, it had a little lift-the-flap feature. Our expressions, that rise in J's chest, as we exit the church on our wedding day earlier that year, look very much like we've sucked in a quick breath before diving into the unknown. In fact, seconds before this was snapped, I remember J leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Here we go!" 

The youth in this picture strikes me, of course. J looks like he is about 12--the kids can't believe the CURLS he had. But I also think with the gift of hindsight about all the things we didn't know were coming. Good and bad. When I see this picture, all I can see is radiating optimism, everything unfurling in front of us. I love this young couple, in all their breathless hopefulness. 

2000, the new millenium--the first and only year when we would simply be Mr and Mrs. Hoffman. 

Sunday
Sep082013

Writing the Crazy Quilt

Recently I got to sit down and chat craft with my high school creative writing teacher. We have been sharing work in the past year, and my children are enthralled by her simple, heartfelt and other-worldly stories of the Moon Darlings. She conveys meaning with a sparse prose, ethereal imagery and language that hints of another place while deeply tethering the reader to the characters.

She listened to me explain what I have been working on this summer, a revisiting of a dual narrator novel that explores the relationship between two women on either side of a man. I rambled on with a plot summary, and explained it as a study on natural beauty and its merit, and the moral compass, and undoing the damage of the past and ... I paused for a breath.

Janna nodded. She then said diplomatically, "I think you would do a very good job writing for a television series. Something complex and intricate, that spins out for many seasons. I'm not sure a novel is the right medium for this kind of writing."

Basically, she said again what an agent who was considering CHOSEN told me years ago in a thick, gravelly Brooklyn accent, "You don't got to be so tricky, doll!"  

Janna went on to say that perhaps, this is the outcome of me knowing that I am talented--see all these balls I can keep in the air!--and intrinsically insecure about the actual merit of what I have to say. A 'don't mind the man behind the curtain, now look over here! she's about to get on another plane/in bed with another man/wreck her life in a new way!' Maybe I'm afraid my story doesn't stand on its own, in the same kind of beautifully simple voice that carries Janna's stories, so I heap on layers, and plot twists and funny side scenes, quirky characters, sex scenes and dredge up some backstory. 

I was reminded of my quilting. I don't actually know how to quilt, and I'm not particularly interested in learning. I don't want to be hemmed in by the rules of quilting, don't want to fuss with ironing interfacing to fabrics that don't have the same amount of give or pin before I sew every little bit. I want freedom to use anything I like, slash up and incorporate a fabulous thrift store find, whether or not it will hold up to a washing machine. Because of this, I rely on the medium of the crazy quilt, where my shortcomings and lack of quilting skill can be covered up with another overlap, another layer, some top stitching or embroidery. In the end, I hope that the person looking at the quilt will see the beauty in the midst of the chaos, because I do. 

(You can read about my daughter's Incentive Quilt, here.)
Piper's crazy quilt

Janna's writing advice: step back from this rolicking, wild, plot-heavy story. Tone down the neurotic characters I have woven. Write a scene from this story in simple prose, and see if the heart is there. There is a reason I am stalled out--see if this is why. I'm excited to try. She may be on to something that explains why I keep circling this story, never feeling like I understand the essence of it.

And on the other hand, I'm not sure that my methodology is totally problematic. Instead, perhaps it is simply my style? There are things I am good at in both mediums. It's not that I'm hasty or sloppy or can't write/sew something beautiful. I hand-embroidered thirteen painted ponies for Piper's quilt, with carefully blanket-stitched edges and flowing, colorful manes and tails, and they're lovely. I can craft dialog that rings true while conveying character and moving plot along all at once. I can seamlessly incorporate elements of pop culture that lend verisimilitude to my work.

I don't only crazy quilt because I'm too lazy to iron before I sew--I do it because I am attracted to this style more than perfectly symmetrical calico stars. I feel inspired by the beauty in layering and odd angles and textures and riotous colors. I am drawn to Murano glass, and cherish J's aunt's miniature layered collages. One of my favorite descriptions of our home was 'Pee Wee's Playhouse Grows Up' because of the bright colors and ecclectic mix of styles that somehow ... work.

Maybe this is true of my writing too. I cringe every time I feel myself edited towards chicklit, pat or formulaic writing. I demand that my characters be messily three-dimensional, with ugly, wobbly, secret underbellies and defining backstories and childhood friends and ex-boyfriends and snarky coworkers and things they do when they think nobody is looking. Maybe I write this way because I am attracted to the beautiful chaos of real life? 

I'll let you know how it goes this week.

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