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Chandra's Blog



Morning Report--an unfinished Favorite on Friday

2013Donald Owen Kistner

At approximately 9 am every morning, my phone rings. If they are within earshot, my children break into the song from The Lion King, “Morning Report”, because we all know it is 'Petah', my father, calling to give us his. He is 83 years old, though you would never guess it. A few weeks ago, we went to a pre-op consultation for a heart procedure. Before stepping on the scale, Dad kicked off his Docksiders, removed his coat and belt, took his billfold out of his pocket and handed it to me, and then made sure to mention what a large breakfast he had had to the nurse, adding that he might have quite a bit of hair gel in, if the number seemed high. She laughed--nurses adore my dad. Once in the exam room, he asked a little sheepishly if his age would be a factor in the procedure. 

“I don’t see why, Mr. Kistner,” she chirped and then glanced at his chart. The nurse turned bright red. “Oh, I, I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I thought you were sixty-three.”

"Oh," I rolled my eyes, "he gets this all. the. time."

  But as a retired man of a certain age, living alone, with maybe too much FOX News in his life, Dad grew concerned in the past few years that Something might happen to him in the night, and then whether it is urban legend or a reported horror from Nancy Grace, he is afraid that his cats might eat him.


  So we set up the Morning Report. He calls me every morning at nine. If I have forgotten to turn my ringer back on from the night before, he leaves me hilariously macabre messages, about how El Gato and Serena are maybe just nibbling at his toes, but he will fend them off until I can call back. He always ends the message, "Love from my house to your house."

In the Morning Report, we share all the details of what has happened since the last time we spoke, which is usually a matter of hours. He tells me who went home the big winner from his regular poker game, what new series he's into on Netflix, highlights something outrageous from his news feed, or says whether or not he slept with the windows open. "Great sleeping weather last night!"

Next I give him the report from the Hoffstead. He knows which of my children has a cough, or grouched about going to school that morning. He asks what I know about my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. I catch him up. We discuss animal news: which of my chickens are laying, which pony Piper and Quinn rode in their lesson, whether or not Sampson has gotten into any trash-digging or trouble. 

Then we move on to weather, which is a real treat. If his cats have woken him early, he has already been through a round of The Weather Channel. My father has eight children, all grown, and when we started to leave the nest, I noticed he used a morning perusal of the Weather Channel to connect with us. He doesn't speak to all of his children every day, but he likes knowing what the sky is doing in their part of the world, whether they left the house with an umbrella, or if it is cold, hopefully with their throats covered. (My father is a big fan of scarves and turtlenecks to keep you from getting sick. He has an entire drawer of 'dickies', those fake turtleneck squares that fit under a collar, in every color.)

"Looks like the Louisiana crew is getting some heavy rain," he'll say when we talk. Or, "Did you see the fires in Colorado? Wonder if it's hazy out near Gavin and Lisa today." When my sister lived in the Caribbean, she said Dad was her most reliable early warning system for tropical storms, that he would call her with alerts to low pressure systems long before they were on her radar. 

My father also loves wordplay and nicknames. Sometimes he tells me witticisms he has come up with in the night. "What do you think of this one, Boo?" he'll say, and recite a little ditty, like this one bemoaning the challenges of aging:

Can't see

Can't pee

Can't hear

Can't drink beer

Why am I still here?



10 April 2014

I started the above blog late last year, for my Favorites on Friday section, but then never published it for a variety of reasons. Despite a proclaimed general avoidance of female authors, my father read my blog religiously, and I worried this one might embarass him. It was maybe too intimate or trivial to share. (So her Dad calls her every morning, so what?) I wondered if it would make my other brothers and sisters envious that I got to be Dad's point person every morning, making sure the cats were not snacking. When we lived abroad last year, the Morning Report transferred to my younger sister, who confessed that she missed it when it switched back to me.

Regardless of the why, I'm sorry I never published it, that maybe he never knew how much I cherished this.

Two weeks ago, Friday, March 28, the phone did not ring at 9 am. 

There is no blog entry or tribute or whole memoir that can capture the wonder that was my father. This is by no means the last word on him. Impossible to sum up, he was a complicated man, with very simple, elemental loves: big dogs, little children, puppy breath and convertibles with the top down. Click here to view the tribute of words, images and music we created in his honor. Dad, I am beyond grateful to have shared the morning minutiae with you the past few years. You are missed.

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Rules of the Room (and life?)

Rules of the Room


  Piper, age 6, just posted this to her door and I am a little taken with her precocious wisdom.  


If you want to hang in Piper's striped pink palace, you are NOT allowed to: 

--bring food into her bed



--in fact, you can't eat in her room at all

--you also may not be mean

--no fighting

--and no making a 'messie' room






What you MAY do in Piper's room?



--have fun

--be kind



and HUG. 


I simply love this girl. 

 * *** *




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,


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 


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. 




* *** * 

the housebound Hoffspring, last storm, 2014


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. 


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. 

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