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Chandra's Blog


Entries in community (3)


It is time...


"It is time..."

The famous line from Rafiki to Simba, in The Lion King, when the young cub is ready to grow up, face challenges and take on responsibility. 

I feel this--I have been feeling it--for some time now.

It is time for something new, and I am excited to share that not unlike a birth announcement, I am revealing something precious and dear, the product of love, hard work and a tiny spark of magic. 

A friend described this event as the perfect Venn diagram overlap of all my passions and skills. 

Welcome to the Summer Writing Retreat at Bryn Athyn College

This 4 day/night immersion experience combines the most desirable elements of both writing conferences and retreats.

WRITING The writing instruction includes professional, workshop-style manuscript evaluation, multi-genre master classes with incredibly talented guest authors, guided writing sessions and an industry agent/editor/publicist Q&A panel and pitch session.

RETREAT With single room residences in one of four charming stone cottages, the retreat incorporates daily yoga for all levels, evening meditation, fresh fare, local wine and beer tastings, hiking excursions in the Pennypack Nature Preserve, tours of the local Glencairn Museum and gothic Bryn Athyn Cathedral, and an evening jazz outing.

To see the specifc agenda for the weekend, plus our fabulous instructor bios, click: SWR AGENDA

To learn more about how to be part of this, click: SWR APPLICATION

In the process of inviting authors to come teach master classes, I pitched it as my fantasy summer camp--combining writing, learning, publishing, nature, summer's bucolic long days and majestic nights, exercise, mindfulness, fresh food, music and wine. Most important was that there be an element of community and camarederie, of inspring ourselves to sharpen our craft's tools, together, while feeding the often-isolated writer's spirit. Every single author I asked to participate said, "I'm in--either this year or next or the one after that, I am in." 

Back to that Venn diagram overlap. I said the only thing that would make this complete for all my passions to exist together in the same place is if we could all ride up on horseback. We'll see what can be arranged. 



Chicken Wire

The Attack

Two days ago, while I was at the horse barn up the street, a fox killed 5 of my chickens, nearly a third of my flock. He started with Orphan Annie, a barred rock we adopted when our silkies hatched out their babies last summer. Next was Freaky Friday, our crazy-haired Easter Egger of two years, followed by my friend Michelle's Max and Freaky, canoodlinggorgeous silkie rooster Romeo, visiting as part of a genetics experiment.

J left the bodies in the yard, hoping to tempt him back, but when Foxy returned he grabbed Sunny, our gorgeous Buff Orpington instead, mauling but not killing her. Also missing at bedtime roll call were Cleopatra, our flagtailed, high flying Easter Egger whose eggs were the most beautiful green, and Eager, one of our ten week old Olive Eggers. RIP, dear creatures.



 Our yard looks like a duvet exploded and the remaining girls are pacing in nervous pairs and trios between the coop and our porch. We are sickened by the loss. Here at the Hoffmenagerie, our chickens are part of the family. (See this post about our Hoffmans Happy Hens and my foray into total birdnerdom.) They are also ridiculously spoiled. Eager and her agemates Bindi and Schpeedy were prone to pasty bum this winter, which meant Piper and Quinn frequently brought them in for a chicken spa, bathing, and then wrapping in tea towels and stroked to sleep by the fire. We knew every one of our casualties personally.


Schpeedy, Bindi and Eager in the CHICU

This loss brought back an old debate to the breakfast table--should we pen our free-range girls? Originally, before I purchased birds, I did hours of research, ultimately deciding I wanted them to be happy, daylight free-range hens, able to wander our property eating bugs, scratching the mulch out of the landscaping, and drinking from the stream. Quality of life over quantity, which they have in spades.

However, chicken is on almost everyone's menu. J researched that humans consume 4 BILLION chickens every year. It's a risk; I get it. 

Seasoned chicken owners warned me that with this philosophy, I would need to be okay with predator loss. As a friend remarked, surveying the chickens dotting our grassy yard -- a wide open flat, surrounded on three sides by woods, brush and stream, "This is the kind of place where in a war, you would not want to meet your enemy."

Before this, I was mostly okay with the losses. Hayden watched everyone's favorite Esme get picked up by a hawk. Magda, Pai and Prima did not come home at night. Lucky was not-so. Fancy Pants admittedly hit us hard, so that J and I were out walking late into the winter night with a flashlight, hopefully calling. But our most recent loss was months ago--Bright, our young troublemaker rooster, picked up mid-crow on Christmas eve morning. Even then I thought, okay, foxes deserve a festive dinner too.


But I was not prepared for a slaughter of this magnitude, in the middle of a sunny spring morning, while Samps snored on the couch. Research revealed some disturbing discoveries: red foxes do attack in the day, especially in late spring when they are feeding babies, and again in August, when those babies are learning to hunt. They do not regard large dogs (like Sampson) as a strong deterrent, knowing they can outrun, cut and deke them. They will kill as many as they can in one attack, possibly returning for the carnage, limiting their exposure. And finally, once you are on their radar, they will return until your flock is gone.

 the girls gathering for breakfast of yogurt and granola

The Chicken Wire

I posted about our recent loss on my private Facebook group, Crazy for Chickens. Beyond sympathy and tales of casualty, what evolved has been fascinating--I'll call it the Chicken Wire. Local owners are using the thread to keep each other updated on Foxy's location.

--"He just left my house and headed your way, look out, Lori!"

--"I almost hit him dropping the kids at school this morning!" (We're all thinking, accelerate!)

--"Any sightings? He's usually stopping by around now."

--"I hear a ruckus at your place? Girls okay?"

Chicken owners are banding together, fortifying coops, exchanging articles and theories, methods of predator control. We are all trying to figure out how to keep our girls safe and happy, so we can return to our lives. This is the same community that has been rattled by far more serious tragedy this spring--cancer, suicidal depression and domestic violence. Perhaps after all this confusing devastation and heartache, it is comforting to rally around something more elemental, the natural circle of life?

Moving On

How will we go forward at the Hoffstead? Maybe we will pen our girls, though the night before our loss, our neighbors lost a staggering 28 out of 30 chickens in one enclosed attack. This also debunks my crazy chicken math that maybe if I just got SO SO MANY chickens, the losses woudln't be as hard to take. I'm visiting a friend's rotational pasture system this weekend for ideas. Our best silkie mama Nugget is sitting on 8 fertile eggs, so hopefully in a few weeks there will be some replenishment and new babies. My sister suggested not keeping them as pets, but instead just getting a large group of generic, high-laying Rhode Island reds. Unfortunately, I'm not wired that way. I'd find distinguishing marks and character traits, and secretly name them, and love them all anyway.

In the meantime, I think of my chicken friend Lori's wisdom, "If you want to have livestock, you have to be willing to have deadstock as well."

Today, I'm sticking a little closer to home with my girls, grateful to have my Crazy for Chickens community, watching over each other's flocks.

* *** *


Nugget mothers Lucy, Mrs. Judy and Rosa





Writers on Wednesday -- Lori Odhner

Though this piece was scheduled before my husband ended up in the hospital, I can't think of a better writer to feature today than Lori, whose essay (and life work) highlights the incredibly generous spirit of the small town we share and her commitment to marriage and family. 


I watched the real life drama of this piece unfold last week: Lori's son Ben, a sweet-hearted, big-eyed boy who is on the autism spectrum went missing. The town rallied and I will promise you ahead of time, this story has a happy ending. I teared up when I read her piece on the experience and immediately asked Lori if I could run this.


I wanted to broadcast her message and share my gratitude for belonging to a town that not only embraces 'it takes a village' and 'love your neighbor', but also values marriage and family. This is a town who signed and sent a letter of condolence and forgiveness to the stranger who struck and killed the high school secretary in a no-fault accident. This the town that organizes meals for new parents and those who have lost loved ones. Most recently someone put together an ongoing chain of love messages, quotes, poetry or flowers (either through email or in person) to a young couple facing cancer in their first year of marriage.

J and I have been on the receiving end of this embrace when our oldest son was born and spent his early months in the NICU of a hospital downtown. To be the center of this much rally and love is awe-inspiring. Ten years later, I remember fondly the good fairies who came in and changed our sheets, knowing that we were falling into bed exhausted every night, who left us platters of cut up fruit and chocolate, and meals that appeared out of nowhere, and the hand-knit blankets and baby caps...


So I had been looking forward to running Lori's story celebrating this kind of caring, when this weekend, J who is recently back from Central America, spiked a frightening fever and ended up in ICU. Though he is looking better and we still don't know why or when to expect him home, one thing is positive: we are held in the embrace of the human community. My phone has been a constant flow of texts and calls and offers and support. My children have been whisked off to their swim practices and metes and sports camps and playdates. Sampson (of the dog blog) has been sprawled out under the air-conditioning vent of neighbors, and everyone has flooded us with positive thoughts, medical insights and string-pulling and love. Last night, a friend stayed over with our kids so that J and I could cozy up in the twin-sized bed at the hospital (Holy Redeemer's Honeymoon Suite!) and watch old Law and Order episodes and joke with the nurses that this was a close to a date as it got for us.  


It is an honor to be a part of this community and to share with readers Lori's inspiring story. Maybe you will go on to create this village for those you love. Maybe you will be reminded to hold their marriages and their loved ones close, to help shoulder their burdens. Maybe one of you will be the first to rally a search party if anyone, or anyone's love story, goes missing. Enjoy...







Yesterday Benjamin was lost for two hours. I told him that the twins were at a friend's house and I got ready to take him there too while I went to a funeral, but as soon as I found my shoes he was gone. I checked the car. Empty. Looked around the house. Not there. I called the police who were instantly helpful. I posted on Facebook and in an astonishingly short time there were fifty five messages.


Curtis-"I'll head down Alden road from the Pike."

Chandra-"Can I help?"

Lisa-"praying for you"


Soon a throng of people and four emergency vehicles were waiting in the parking lot around the corner while we cranked out pictures of Benjamin. Dogs trained by people I will never meet, over hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive in five minutes to memorize the scent of his clothes.


My heart was frozen, trying not to think about worst case scenarios. Could my entire life be forever charred by this day? It was such an ordinary moment, not like when my oldest son drove from Los Angeles to Times Square to celebrate the new millennium with trillions of strangers which would most certainly include a few thousand malevolent snatchers.


Benjamin stopped his Houdini escapes eight years ago and life de-escalated from constant red alert. He will sit in the car, in his favorite seat, whenever he gets wind that we are going somewhere because he does not want to be left behind. Ever.


I tried to think the way he does. He would go see Jamie, if he was confused. John and two policemen searched her house. Perhaps he figured out that funerals happen at church and went there. Did he even know the way? The mourners noticed men in uniform combing the grounds. We checked the corners of our closets, the dryer, the trunks of three cars, the bathrooms, the tubs. But he would not hide there. Autistic kids do the same things over and over. He had never done this. Where was he?


Benjamin had decided that his sisters needed him. In a burst of heroism he resolved to find them. He scarcely ever calls them by name because he is still confused by twinness and cannot tell them apart, so he was looking for "the girls". But early in the trek it started to rain, hard, and he traipsed into the nearest house, five doors down from us. Their grandmother was home and asked what his name was, which he mumbled an answer to. Her television was on so he plopped down and decided to watch an adventure in lieu of having one. She called John at work, and left a message, but he was pounding the pavement not fifty feet from her phone. She tried our number and left a message, but I was so busy making calls and pacing I did not think to check voicemail.


The policeman used his loud speaker to blast out Benjamin's name and to assure him that he was not in trouble but he should come out now. He heard it, but stayed put because he "did not want to be arrested." Besides, Smurfs was getting to the good part.


Before the searchers actually fanned out more people arrived home down the street, and having passed several patrol cars blocking the road realized that the small boy in Grandma's favorite chair was probably the object of the commotion.


In the aftermath I am enormously grateful. Just now, when I handed him lunch, I sat with him instead of rotating the laundry. We chatted about factoring, and cubes. He smiled.


"Zero is a stupid number. When you cube it it is still zero!" I savored the simple sweetness of his presence. 


It is cozy to have all your ducks lined up... to know where your children are, and to have dinner in the oven. But falling apart is an experience that brings you to a place more holy than words can define. 


People are poised and ready to throw their life aside to find a little boy who will never write them a thank you note, though he would, if pressed, tell you what day of the week your birthday will fall on in 2012 should you be inclined to advanced planning.


What would happen if that collective compassion were unleashed on lost marriages?


Status Update- I am hurting. I cannot find my resolve to stay in this marriage.


How quickly would they forward photos of your wedding day? What people, trained in recovering covenants for hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive to sniff out the clues of its disappearance? How long would it take to have fifty five messages from people with offers to pray, come right away, and help you look for the love you cannot find?

 * *** * 


Lori and John Odhner 


Lori and her husband John have nine children and have been leading marriage workshops for most of their thirty years of marriage. Lori writes a marriage blog aimed at a combination of humor, inspiration and real life examples of how to keep a marriage well oiled and running. You can find this at: