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Chandra's Blog



Twelve years is a long time

This time of year is always tainted by the bittersweet. The return to routine, letting go of the ease of summer, everything exploding, then disappearing like the spring-loaded touch-me-not seeds in the jewelweed clumps my brothers and I used to set off on our September walks to school. 

Twelve years ago on September 4, we welcomed little Jonathan Hayden into our lives. For years afterward, the anniversary effect of this event, coupled with the September 11 attacks and almost losing Hayden after his first surgery have made this time of year bittersweet. I wrote about it several years ago, here, and here.

But twelve years is a lot of distance between now and our baptism by fire into parenthood and the anxiety of raising a family in uncertain times. Twelve years later, I would say while our greater world is no more certain, things here have progressed to a point where I only see and feel the joy. I can still remember the dark, hissing pumping closet at the hospital, and how bewildered I was to find myself in there in a long dress and tights, what seemed appropriate attire for early fall but totally inapprorpiate for pumping milk for my baby living on machines in the next room. I remember seeing the footage on CNN while I was trying to negotiate this small dilemma, the jumpers from the burning World Trade Center, stick figures, really. And feeling numbness. I remember walking outside of the hospital, escaping for a brief breath of fresh air, and seeing the cabs by the UPenn with turbaned drivers and handmade signs in the back windows that read WE ARE SIKH, FROM INDIA. WE LOVE UNITED STATES. I remember all of this, but with distance and the luxury of hindsight. Twelve years is a long time. 

Today, Hayden is healthy. I no longer worry that the hospital will take him back, an irrational fear from the early half of his life. I sometimes Google anxiously, about the other shoe dropping, but mostly I try to just enjoy who he is and where we are, even in the face of world uncertainty. 


Hayden, Water Cay, 2013


First day

Today was the first day of school. The first time, since becoming a mother almost twelve years ago, that all three of my children will go to traditional school together, at the same time. For twenty eight and a half hours a week. After several episodes of homeschooling and traveling, of book touring and then leading our two lives, one here and one on Isla de Utila, I don't know what to think about this.

Hoffspring leaving their island life

 All the things I thought I'd be so excited to do--go on a long run, start writing on a brand-new project--turned into me rattling around this morning with a second cup of coffee, laying out a few hands of Aces on the Bottom, obsessively checking my email and finally getting out of the house, and browsing (without luck) at the carpet store.

Off to school, Aug 2013

It's funny, in their other life, they learned to tie nautical knots to keep the boat from drifting away from the dock cleat, and leapt barefoot from the boat to their tutor in town. In the other, this past Sunday my father and brothers taught me a hasty and sloppy half Windsor for prep school ties and I obsessed over the minutiae of dress code approved footwear.


After Skyping with them early this morning, J remarked privately to me that the kids look great, though maybe a little like they're auditioning for an Annie Lennox music video. That's ok. It's part of why this two lives thing works. Hopefully, we are shooting for the bigger picture--presenting them with all kinds of options for a life, and hoping we are raising people capable of playing by the rules, (and breaking a few) and figuring out what really matters.


Last night, I wallpapered Hayden's pencil keeper (a wooden Honduran cigar box) with photos of Amigo and Sampson, the dogs he loves in both places, and a tiny cameo of his family, just in case a hip sixth grader whose side part in the photo at left was 'ironic, mom, get it?' wanted a glimpse of familiar faces.  

The hoping we're getting it right is what had me up again at 3:30 am, cutting out Max and Piper's sandwiches in the shape of our stateside house's roofline, and leaving little notes on red paper where the front door would be, telling them I couldn't wait to hear about everything when they came HOME. 


Here's to a great year, and all kinds of new adventures for us all. 

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Favorites on Friday...

This. Coming to a bed near me soon.


Summer Reading -- My Foreign Cities

I may have mentioned my inability to put books down, my need to read them in single, sleepless, ignore-my-kids binges. So stranded on an island (with a restaurant next door) for the past two months with little to do beyond swim with my kids, write, knead dough and hang wash was a good time to dive into reading. Several recent summer reads were courtesy of my agent, Maria Massie, fellow clients with stories to disappear inside. I'm excited to profile a few of them here over the next few weeks.

My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro is the memoir of the author's decision at seventeen to fall in love with the larger-than-life Stephen, despite the fact that her dreams included travel, serial dating and adventure, and Stephen had cystic fibrosis and a short life expectancy.  


It takes a certain level of fortitude to start a book like this. You know anything that is called a 'modern, true Love Story'  will take you on an emotional jag. There's a commitment you have to make to ride this bittersweet ride alongside Liz and Stephen. However, once you start, you, like their myriad cast of supporting characters, want to see them through to the end, and what lies beyond. 


The memoir grew out of this NYTimes Modern Love essay, where she addressed the aftermath--what to do with the frozen sperm of Stephen years later, when her life had taken its own course. A beautiful read in its own right. 


For me, some of the most familiar writing of the memoir was around the hospital time. I have done my share of time on those conversion chairs and felt the otherness of life that moved inside this maddeningly slowed time. I'm familiar with the reassuring security and limitations of modern medicine. I understood the love-hate relationship with the hospital; that she wanted to go back there the day after Stephen died was so telling, because of the familiarity, the comfort of being taken care of. I cried for her when the staff started to distance themself from the case at the end, and loved the bravery of both Elizabeth and Stephen's doctor in their final conversation. 

Time, Liz, Stephen and CF are the main characters of this story, and the way each is transformed in the decade they have is a spellbinding read. There were parts of the book where I laughed (when he tried shotgunning a beer through his stomach tube) and when I was completely moved--the conversation they have where Stephen is intubated, and can't speak, and Liz interprets for him. The life events they endure in this short period, the grave decisions they faced and the intensity of their love story were underscored by the unknown but looming expiration date. Liz and Stephen packed a lifetime of passion, intensity and adventure into their decade. The author does an admirable job of capturing the realities of this without falling into the maudlin, saccharine or trite. 


I disappeared into their story for an entire day, the same one where I left Utila and J for this month, and came out a little shaken and tender-feeling, ultimately grateful for having walked through this with Liz as a savvy guide. The overwhelming take-home was an enhanced appreciation for my own love story, and the apparent luxury of our time together. 

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Hanging wash and kneading dough -- La Vida Tranquila

wash on the lineMy husband jokes that every time he stops by the house for a refill of iced jasmine tea, he finds me either hanging out wash on the line behind the house or kneading bread dough like a good Central American doña. 

While it is not exactly true, he is right. We slip into a simpler life here, a slower pace with more labor intensive tasks, out of necessity, to take advantage of the benefits of abundant sunshine and live more responsibly in our environment. We don't need a dryer, though it does take considerably longer to hang clothes than simply flipping a sopping pile into another machine and pushing a button. I don't have to bake bagels or bread here in the land of fluffy Bimbo bread, where there are occasionally overpriced, imported Lender's bagels in the freezer section of the supermercado in Utila Town. And though I sell some of my bagels to the local restaurant, we could live without bagels in general. Yet there is something pleasant about kneading the dough, putting it out on the back porch to rise, boiling the water and shaping the bagels. 

There is something meditative about hanging each item of clothing out on the zigzag of clothesline. I think of the people who wear these sunbleached beach clothes, and somehow a chore becomes an act of love.

And yet I know, having transitioned between my two lives last winter (documented previously in Ten Take Home Lessons from La Vida Tranquila) that the disparity in my lifestyle choices might remain the same. 

Why? I can be one of the pioneers of bringing back the clothesline, at least in summer, in my Northeast suburban lifestyle. But will I? I can make my family's own fresh bread and bagels--we have a lovely soapstone kitchen counter just begging for a kneading session. But will I? What is it about the pace of my other life that gobbles up time that might be spent in loving, healthier, greener domestic rituals? 

I have subscribed to the Fly Lady Fling, belong to a Facebook purge and declutter group, and a woman I met last weekend here in Utila introduced me to the 100 Thing Challenge. She's considering moving to the island, wondering what she will need. I told her I think Utila will suit her perfectly--it is easier here to live with less. 

But what if I'm not ready for anything quite so extreme as narrowing my life down to 100 necessary belongings (or is it 500, when you count J and the Hoffspring?) What if I'm staring down my upcoming transition to the Land of Stuff (as my Utila ladies and I refer to the USA) and I want to take some of my island lessons back to my other life?

In what ways would you like to simplify your current life? What small steps would you choose to make? What quiet rituals would enrich your connection to the tasks of daily life, your family or the earth? 

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