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Chandra's Blog


Entries in family (6)


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.

* *** *






Ringing in the New Year with a hammer and nail

basement project

Last night I succumbed to the plague that has been circling our family and crawled into bed at eight pm.

Before that, I had made this amazing soup from my dear friend Amanda Gibson in Utila, and there was silliness and a handful of profound thoughts around the table as we attempted resolutions. 

(Max, age 8: I will not burp in my brother's face at the table, like THIIIIIIIISSSSSSSRAWWWPPP.)

(Piper, age 5: I will learn to read meaningful things.)

(Hayden, age 11: I will live a more eco-friendly life wherever I am.)



I fell asleep to the sounds of the new year ringing in with hammer and nail as J and the boys continued the basement framing of Hayden's future bedroom. It feels appropriate, like a continuation of our Utila commitment to circle the wagons, to shift the focus to home and family. That we end this year with a beginning. 

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

-T.S. Eliot

I dreamed up two jars in my sleep--one where we could put ideas for fun things to do, and a (consequence) job jar. As much as I love alliteration, I renamed the second one the Teamwork jar, since we have been talking a lot as we traveled about our family as a team, and how we all need to work together for things to happen.


We'll see how excited the kids get about this. I can already detect some scoffing. Today, some of Hayden's pals dropped by while I was mopping where I had slopped some water moving the Christmas tree out and the orange tree back into a sunnier spot of distinction. I was mopping away, jamming out to some Usher and Hayden sort of cornered me and whispered fiercely, "Mom, why do you have to be so, so CLEAN all the time?"

In my defense, I haven't mopped in a month.

While I booting out Christmas and other vestiges of 2012, cleaning and scheming, I did some reflecting.

2012 has been a good year. Not the best. Not the worst. Good. If I were writing its report card, I'd give it a B. On the right track! Solid effort; room for improvement...

I also made a handful of resolutions, but the one I feel is most important is my commitment to write words every day. I first made this the year I turned seventeen. I was headed off to college, and it was the only year I fully kept this resolution. Freshman year was not an easy transition for me. I wasn't equipt to live away from home but I was more than ready to leave. I've never re-read the journal I kept that year; it would probably make me pretty sad. But I did it. I wrote every night and most nights in the following year. I even looked forward to it. Some nights it was the only the words, "sad. lonely. tired now, more later." 

In the years since then, things have gotten much, much better. I have needed that nightly paper and ink friend less, especially as writing also became my day job. I have continued to keep journals throughout my adult life, relying on it more at some times than others. J says he worries when he notices I am scribbling a lot.

But this year, it will be more of an experiment. A snapshot in stuttershot frames; a 365 project. Words that simply capture this time. As I lounged on the couch with my eleven-year-old this afternoon we were talking about how time in Utila had a different quality, and I realized I could not remember exactly what I had done on my birthday, only three months ago. I panicked. I don't want to forget this, these days, this lucky life. 

Journal writing is about recording moments in the moment, in their vivid reality, capturing them before hindsight has had a chance to tinge memory with color or sepia. It is about the raw format. The bare bones. I want to be able to remember the structure of this year, the frame, when it is exposed. So that I can look back and remember when it is done. 

Because here is the truth: I have high hopes for 2013. It will answer a lot of questions for me. Just like the basement, I have plans to lay flooring and hang figurative drywall, to dress it up with paint and decorate this year. Unlucky number be damned, I want to record it all. Highs and lows, brief memories and witticisms. Snapshots and watercolors. I promise only to subject readers to the highlights.


I'd love to hear what things you are committing to this year. Let's make it memorable! 





Dog Blog--Sampson, 10 months old

Age: 10 months

Weight: 145 lbs

Less than a year old, and in seven short months with us, Sampson has incresed to nearly ten times his body weight, and injected our lives with fur-flying chaos, a new, adolescent chuff and doe-eyed devotion. 

Next week is our last week of obedience training, which Sampson has struggled hard to wrap his head around, but proven weekly that he does want to please, it just might take a little longer for him to figure out what I'm asking, as opposed to the wily Husky or the pert and pointed Lab. The two best things to come out of the class: Hayden's increasing confidence in his ability to make Sampson listen to him, and Samps understanding leash manners well enough that we can walk around town without me keeping a constant eye out for posts or trees to grab onto should he see something he really wants to chase. I love our late afternoon/evening walks around town--reminiscent of my first Newf Dakota who literally traveled the world with me, from Ithaca to the Cayman Islands to Spain to Portland to Boulder/Breckenridge and back to our original stomping grounds. I realize that this is critical for my connection to a dog, and why, with our backyard dog Jonah who I rarely walked because he came along in our family's 'stroller years', Joey was more J's dog than mine. 

Suffice it to say, Sampson is mellowing nicely into the Hoffman Family Dog, lounging on the couch, sleeping in bed with the kids and leaving calling cards of fur and slobber in his wake. 

couch dwelling with J


The other day, Sampson was sprawled out on his giant bed in front of the fire while the kids set up a game of Crazy Bones just in front of him. Sampson raised an eyebrow as the plastic pieces skittered past his nose, but he didn't bound over and try to snag any, nor did he think is was worth his time to jump on the backs of the small children sitting cross-legged in front of him or place any parts of their bodies in his mouth.

There are still playdates who come over and spend the entire time on our kitchen counter, but it is out of their anxiety. In fact, as I point out to the kids, he spends most of his time sleeping, chasing the occasional cat, or asking to be let out. And then in. And then out again. And then in. And then out. 





 The photo at left is how I find Piper and Sampson often. I may be his mother, but she is his girl. 


Stay tuned for more from Sampson and the dog blog, email me for guest dog features, up and coming authors on the Writers on Wednesday series and BOOK NEWS. 



i'M thinking of leaving my i-Phone, and here's why:

 A year and a half ago, I had a phone that was the cellular equivalent of a tin can and a string. It didn't allow me to text my husband with hilarious Japanese emoticons or receive business (or junk) emails, didn't entertain me with selections from my 16,000 iTunes librabry while giving me a (too) accurate GPS and Nike summary of my running routes, didn't allow me to snap photos of everything from my newborn niece (worthy) to suspicious looking rashes on my kids to text to my nurse friend.

The old phone? My kids wanted NOTHING to do with it--it didn't have Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies or their latest obsession, Dragon Vale. I couldn't play Scrabble on it while killing time at car pick-up or check the news feed of Facebook. The only way it helped me navigate when I was lost was for me to call someone and ask them to look up my cross-streets on Mapquest and talk me out of my pickle. On my old phone, when I was waiting at a particularly long red light, I was never tempted to google the lyrics to 'Party in the USA'. (Incidentally, that second line is not "Welcome to the land of famous sex, am I going to fit in?") 

Back then, I could be counted on to have my old phone with me 40% of the time and there was maybe a 10% chance that if I had it with me, it would actually be charged.

And then my book sold, and I planned my twelve city book tour, and I was receiving emails that I wanted to read, from agents and editors and publicists. I wanted to respond quickly and professionally, and I didn't like that the first thing I did when walking in our front door was quickly dash to the computer to check my email. I hated the way that since starting on my journey to publication and okay, joining Facebook, I had started checking it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I left my laptop open on the kitchen counter with the volume turned up so I could immediately answer emails. When I sensed family resentment (read: kids hanging off my arms as I tried to type a reply) to the amount of time I spent in front of the screen, I moved my computer to the top floor of our house, so that I would have to run up the stairs to check my email. 

But with the new gig, the writing career, I decided to transport my technological self into the twenty-first century. Giddy, I bought an iPhone last August. Since then, I have been reachable and connected. I wear it when I run, when I walk my daughter to preschool and I sleep with it on my pillow, and check my Google alerts and website stats and  20% offers from Snapfish when they ding at 3 am. I even typed a very jiggly  response to secure a bookstore appearance WHILE jogging, looking down at my screen instead of the towering oak trees and flowing river beside me.

J and I both work from home. We need to have intelligent phones that connect us to the world. We say we would be genuises and able to retire if we could develop an app that only made your phone alert when you received a business-related email that was going to make you money--different from the *ping* that announces it is the LAST DAY FOR 20% OFF AT LUCKY JEANS EVER! (again)

The other night we watched a documentary about the eighty hour American workweek and electronic multi-tasking, and the image that stuck with me was the husband and wife on the couch, watching TV, with their laptops on while they work from home at 9:30 at night, texting each other on smart phones from twenty inches away. It reminded me of the horror of futuristic movie Wall-E, where the two blubbery men sit side-by-side in their hover-chairs, drinking their cupcake in a cup and talking to projected images of each other on screens. One suggests apathetically a round of 'virtual golf'. 

I love my iPhone and I want to be connected, but I'm starting to wonder... is this who I want to be? I have email and texting and Twitter and Facebook apps and I am connected, to the outside world. But I wonder, is this world that I really want to connect to, when the people in my home get this: 


How do you manage your screen time? 












Monday* Musings -- Thanksgiving Tree


Yesterday my sister, who lives in the Cayman Islands, and I were on the phone working out amounts of our allotted Thanksgiving contributions. She arrives tonight and her job is pies; I’m on stuffing.

            “I thought I’d make three, maybe four,” I said. “Regular,” which means my Mom’s recipe with Stroehmann’s white bread and lots of butter and marjorman but no apples, “gluten-free for my guys, maybe an oyster one for Dad, and Stove Top for Nick.”

            She agreed, and we moved on to how many of each pie she should make.

            “There’s just the sixteen of us this year,” she told me.

            Could that be right? My sister and I ticked off on our fingers, bewildered. Can our immediate family, our parents, siblings, spouses and niece/nephews, minus our Colorado brother and his brood, really only be sixteen people?

            It has been nine years since my parents separated and sold the cabin in the Catskills that had always been our childhood Thanksgiving destination, a traditional feast with at least three great browned birds and as many relatives, friends, love interests, stray dorm students and pets as we could drag along—the dining room table there could comfortably seat thirty and there was always room out by the gigantic fireplace for roasting and peeling chestnuts.

            (You can read more about how my perception of the meaning of Thanksgiving dinner growing up ‘the peaceful din of chaos’ made its way into my argument for why we needed to have more than two children in my article Are You Done? here)

            It can be hard to let go of your origins, of what traditional used to mean. Our family has had nine years of other Thanksgivings, some of them together, sometimes in Pennsylvania, sometimes the Caribbean, my various siblings scattering to their in-laws as we married and made families, traditions of our own. 

            For me, this now includes a Thanksgiving gratitude tree, where I walk in the woods with my children sometime before the feast and find a suitable branch, and we write what we are grateful for on paper leaves, followed by the date, and hang them all on this branch.



Some of my favorites from the past include:

            “Scooby Doo, Fred and Daphne, and Velma” – Max, 2007 (age 3)

“Thankful for trees that give us oxygen and bald eagles” -- Hayden, 2008 (age 7)

            “For LIFE” – Papa Joe, 2008 (age 86)

"For my baby sister, Piper, and my suckerfish" -- Hayden, 2007 (age 5)

            “Calloway’s Bar and Modern Warfare” – cousin Kian, 2009, (age 28)

            “Wagons” (????) Max, 2009 (age 5)

            “Hope, and the visitation of dragonflies” – Chandra, 2008, (age 34)



QUESTION: I’d love to know what Thanksgiving means to you, what traditions you love, miss or are making this year?


*Savvy readers will note that this MONDAY MUSING is showing up on a Wednesday. Sorry for the hard drive hiccup!