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Chandra's Blog


Entries in kids (12)


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. 

* *** *




Pond Hockey

I live about a hundred yards from the house where my family moved when I was three. At the center of the property is a large, spring-fed pond that nearly a hundred years ago was dammed to soak the timber for the Cathedral. For many years after, this pond was the town's winter skating rink. 

However, the shift in climate and the constantly running water means that in all the time I have lived here, it has not been safe to skate on the pond. My grandfather, whose job it was as a boy to check the ice on his local skating pond outside Chicago, shut this pond down and built a safer, outdoor skating rink where we all currently enjoy our hockey season

Last weekend, J flew home from Utila. The temps had not gone above the teens for the past twelve days so after Max's early game he and Sampson set out with his drill to test the ice. My grandfather, now almost 93, drove by to see what he was up to and assured him that 4-6 inches was safe for backyard skating. What followed is one of the best winter days we have ever had. Friends and kids arrived at the house all day. Gear bags exploded on the grass. I tied a dozen skates at least a dozen times. Max braved his first day out of goalie pads. Hot chocolate and soup bubbled and flowed. The ice held, singing its unique pond hockey accoustic twangs. Sampson was in his puck-stealing, kid-chasing glory. Youth hockey boys got back from their early NJ game, and some left to head up to the home rink for their late games, and came back to play more. Little girls alternated between skating on the side rink and indoor Valentine creations. Baby Harper snoozed, and the big boys played hockey until J brought out the construction lights. As darkness fell, the parents shivered outside in shifts, sipping hot soup and cold beer. 

By Monday, it was raining, and yesterday, a warm wind from the south melted the last of the ice and whipped the water into waves.

It was a day we may never have again; one which we won't soon forget. 


J and Max prepare the icesweeping the snow 

 Mama Max and Pip play early morning Piper in "full gear" Max's first day out of the pads the big boys get back from NJ and join in

Teams are made and the games go into the night



hot cocoa on tap and endless chips and queso

Niece Quinn joins in!



J shovels a side rink so the girls are out of puck range

Sampson takes a break from playing defense


pond angel* *** * 



Girly Craft Day

the Mini Boden inspiration

I am forever looking at things in catalogs and craft stores and design mags and thinking, I could do that. Today, I did. 

The boys are in an all-day ice hockey camp so Piper and I ticked a bunch of things off our To Do list and then rewarded ourselves with some leftover won ton soup and the tackling of a craft project. 

I saw the inspiration T-shirt in Mini Boden, a UK based clothing company that I usually enjoy browsing because I like their style and what's more, they interview their child models. I have bought some slouchy skater pants for my boys there but mostly feel it's a little overpriced for kids clothes.

But when I saw these shirts, I thought of the piles of leftover felt in my craft closet after the owl project. I started with the circles, because it was easy. I'd picked up a few blank T-shirts on sale at Old Navy and continously browse our thirft store for decent basics. Note: this project would also work with some favorite T's that got the dreaded grease stains. 

I made two circle templates and cut them out, then played with pinning them in position until I got a pattern I liked. 


circles pinned in position

While I did this, Piper tackled the regluing of glitter polka dots on a pair of really hideous Old Navy leggings we'd snagged for less than a dollar when I was fresh off the plane from Utila and desperate to cover her chilly little legs with anything. I warned her that the gold polka dots or their friends the big hideous rhinestones at the gathered ankles might not stay on through the wash. I was right about the polka dots. 

Pip set to gluing and sprinkling the fabric glitter my brother gave her for Christmas while I fired up the sewing machine. It took about seven minutes to straight stitch the felted circles into position. 

pip in action

I seriously didn't think her pants could be much uglier than they were when I bought them. They are, but infinitely more important, she is thrilled with them. 



The fruits of our labors can be seen below. Next, Piper has to do the backside of her leggings, and I think I'll try either the butterfly or the pear shirt. Total cost $4. Total time: 20 minutes. 

A successful afternoon of crafting with my girl: immeasurable. 

Piper's leggings

Piper models her finished shirt



La Vida Tranquila -- Ten Take Home Lessons

1. Things can be more simple.


sunset dock fishingHayden often said about Utila, "The days here are long, but the time passes quickly." Of course that is true when the day begins at dawn, when much of our effort is spent on the truly elemental tasks of food, exercise, water, heath, learning...

Why do we lose that in the translation of trying to hit the ground running in our US life? I have already caught myself leaving the tap on while I brush my teeth, and my initial combination of wonder and vague queasiness at the absolute abundance in the SuperGiant has been replaced by 'get groceries' on my To Do list.  

 Piper came to me the other day with a plastic bottle cap she had found on the beach.  She was carrying it carefully so the water wouldn't slosh out.

When I asked her what it was she said matter-of-factly,  "It's the back-up cistern for my fairy house." 

How do we remember all this when we go back to the land of stuff?



2. Make or purpose things we don't have.

Max and Pip constructing

we mastered the art of homemade bagels












3. Appreciate but do not abuse our new unlimited access to ... (fill in the blank: instant and constant internet acess, an iPhone that does more than act as a camera/flashlight, 24 hour electricity, hot water, drinkable tap water, paper products in public restrooms, imported produce,, etc)

4. Use less of...  (fill in the blank, see above list

5. We can live without TV, cable, microwave, dishwasher, dryer, Xbox, Playstation, (see above; the list is long)

6. Friendships forged in unusual places can be immediate, lasting, and span vast bodies of water.

Piper and Bine

chandra and amanda











pizza night with friends







Pip and Benja





amigo and max












7. Keep finding the interesting people, the experts in their fields and connecting them with the kids.

Uncle Brad was an endless source of marine biology info

Yesterday on our travels home we met the anthropologist Sue Hendrickson, who lives in Guanaja. She and Hayden chatted dinosaurs and conch pearls, Central American sandfly remedies and SCUBA diving. 

At the end of their visit, she swiped her palm against his for luck, and gave him a signed photo of her and her famous find, the most complete T-Rex skeleton.

We also were lucky to live next door to marine biologists Brad and Andi Ryon. Brad (center at left) was a willing partner in SCUBA, fishing and other maritime adventures, and Andi facilitated our connections to yoga. We also nd became close friends with Amanda and John Arne Løken of Float Utila, the world's largest sensory deprivation tank. You can read Hayden's review of Float Utila here.


Regular dive experiences with Diego Frank and Amir Gavrieli rounded out the experiences at Underwater Vision.


 There is something to be said for the kernel of adventuresome spirit that it takes to live in Utila, and the endlessly interesting characters one is fortunate to encounter there. 


8. You can move thousands of miles away, but it doesn't change who you are.

Within a month, we had a black dog sleeping in our bed, and mewling kittens waking us up to be fed.

Amigo and kids

Thunder, our formerly feral rescue kitten










9. Following our story has taken us to unexpected places both on the globe and within our family.

flying in Capt David's plane

commuting home with Andi









J and Max go diving




Hayden--certified diver














fishing tourney

La Ceiba, Honduras




















10. "Clean" "Safe" and "Necessary" are all relative terms. 


Night bonfires




 treasure collecting





Piper's schoolbus






don't worry--medical care is just a flight away













roasted coconut--a favorite













 BONUS Piper's favorite rule: In Utila, hairbrushing is optional. 

 Island girl



La Vida Tranquila -- Pint-Sized Tour Guide

I've never been a good napper. When I lived in Tarifa as a single woman, I spent the siesta hours of the afternoon taking long walks with my faithful dog and a Nikon. Peeking through arched white-washed doorways in this Spanish town with 13th century roots and heavy Moorish influence, I assembled a photo essay called Las Puertas Antiguas de Tarifa. I was thinking today that if I ever put together a photo essay of Utila, my common theme could be La parte posterior de las cabezas Bine y Piper since I spend much of my time in Utila following these two around. It's a pretty good gig.


The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 1

The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 2















The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 3

The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 4










Bine (pron. BEE-nuh) is Piper's dearest friend here. Her parents run FLOAT UTILA, the world's largest float tank (designed and built by Bine's Dad). They have one of the best love stories I have ever heard and I could spend hours sipping coffee and chatting with her mom while our kids play cheerfully.

Bine is a creative, curly-haired girl with a whimsical spirit and such a transparent, honest streak she often floors me with her direct imperatives and observations. 

I'm noticing a tender innocence to many of the children of my Utila friends. On the one hand, they are exposed to so much on the streets of Town. I often wish for ear muffs for my own kids when we pass the ferry port and there's crazy shirtless Webb greeting the incoming boat with his tarantula on a stick and some pelvic thrusting as he howls, "GOT-DAMN I WANT SOME FAH-KING GRINGA PUSS-Y!" as the horrified backpacker girls scuttle past. Or there's the diabetic bum begging for soda as he urinates openly next to the cafe where we're having breakfast. Or the crackies spitting at each other in a domestic dispute, or the brash potty-mouths of the twenty-something Aussie divemasters as we pile in the bed of the pick-up truck driving out to beach clean-up. 

But here there is also no TV, no commercials, no WalMart; a complete blissful lack of awareness of mainstream juvenile popculture. Maxim (5) only just learned of the existence of Batman. There is a commitment between the mothers here to maintain that innocence, and preserve some of the wonder of childhood, where afternoons are spent finding snails in the harbor, creating castles for hermit crabs on the beach or visiting bats in abandoned hotels. 

Bine, our tour guide

Today, after Piper's BICA school and yoga and workbooks with the boys in Bundu Cafe, we followed Bine on a tour of her version of Utila. We set out with the girls' hands tucked into mine as we attempted a snake-like single-file through the narrow street, the boys running ahead, and Bine and Pip singing in the sweetest improv soprano soundtrack, 

You have to be nice and caring

to fulfill your heart

and your dreams

of love

You can't be aggressive 

like a bulldog

or Piper's brothers...



 This place caught my attention the first time I traveled from Utila Town to the South Shore by boat, on our way from the US. It is a distinctly dated but elegant structure clinging to the hillside over the harbor. I asked our boat captain so many questions about it--why had it never been finished? who owned it? who lived there? that my kids dubbed it "Mom's Old Hotel".


Bine skipped ahead up the steep, green-slick street of Colibri Hill past a tangle of woods and barbed wire with the promise of bats on the fourth floor and a breathtaking view of the harbor. 

hiking up the hill 

Bat hotel 










I was fascinated by the wild grounds that showed hints of ambition, intricate tile work and the design of future fountains and gardens.

Bine danced past laundry on moss-slick paths, past an ornate red iron bedframe and turquoise bike and tugged open the unlocked door. All four children raced up the stairs screaming and clapping.

Underfoot, decades of guano and fruit pits crunched, amidst panes of broken glass and construction debris.


beautiful tile workIt reminded me of the Disney World attraction "Tower of Terror", set in a 1940s abandoned hotel with endless attention to historical detail to entertain park guests as they stood in hours of snaking line and waited to be thrilled. Only here, as my children clapped to startle bats and climbed through broken windows to balconies, I was acutely aware that no ride inspector or first world litigious system was ensuring their security. 


potentially stunning botanical and water features

view from the topThe view of the harbor below was worth it.



Bine's mom waved to us from the porch of their house below where she was whipping up one of her signature delicious lunches and toddler Gus was no doubt sword-weilding or plunging into their homemade boat bath in his underwear. 


Back inside the hotel, the startled, nocturnal bats flew in and out as we trekked through their territory. Photos couldn't capture it, so I shot a little shaky iPhone video (in between ducking).



bike and bed on the grounds

After I convinced the kids that dropping broken glass from the windows would be a bad idea, we followed Bine back through the overgrown grounds to lookout points. On the balcony of an outbuilding, a young couple kissed, smoke curling up from the cigarettes tucked in their dangling hands. Leafcutter ants stretched a procession a hundred yards long like a miniature landlocked green regatta.

At a fork in the road, we wound up to the Colibri Hotel with the promise of kittens, only to find they had grown into standoffish cats. Instead, we discovered a bright blue pool in a cove of palm trees, and an overloaded avocado tree that rained down its fruit in a gust of wind.


the backs of Bine and Piper's heads 5








A street puppy followed Piper and Bine over the rise in the hill and down again to town, panting and smiling up at them.

A motorbike carrying a family of four zipped past, the baby straddling the gas tank in an overloaded diaper.

An elderly Honduran cowboy in a bright orange shirt bowed and chuckled as Piper and Bine breezed by him.


"Come on!" Bine cried as she and Piper opened their arms like bird wings and rounded the curve of the hill by Johnny's Water back to Town.

"I know where we can see a bulldog named Ceiba and real live green parrots!"

I hurried to catch up. 

* *** *