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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Linden (3)


Weekly Dog Blog -- Sampson, 9 Weeks

Age: 9.5 weeks

Weight: 30.4 lbs

Yes, you read that correctly. In his first three weeks home, Sampson has almost doubled his body weight. 


The past week and a half have flown by with my husband's birthday and the arrival of my sister's family as they transition from full time Caribbean life to a US existence. I have hardly known how to handle myself, so many exciting things at once. If you haven't  read This POST about the fabulousness that is my sister, you might not get how giddy this makes me, to have her family shouting distance away... 


Piper and Quinn with their ongoing painting projectAnd Piper has been thrilled to have my sister's daughter Quinn, her sister-cousin. Both girls agree that Sampson's chewy phase is unwelcome. He loves following the little girls' flouncing skirts and thinks their delicious, sun-warmed forearms are just ripe for nibbling. Perched up on the kitchen counter out of the way of Sampson the other night, Piper told me:

"I have decided I don't want a puppy. I want a dog. The worst Jonah ever did was shake his wet on me."


Throughout this time of helping their family to settle in, Sampson has been a game little shin-high compadre, toddling cheerfully between their new house and ours. He should be relishing his final moments indoors at Casa Nowak because the white carpet comes tomorrow and it's not going to be much longer that J can do this: Over the Shoulder Puppy Holder

In addition, this past week we had our annual family reunion--a tradition my maternal grandparents started more than 50 years ago. From these two people, who had seven children, there are now 72 relatives--their children, grandchildren and great-grands with three new babies due. This year, we decided to hold it locally, literally in the common property. My grandfather celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday and we are all feeling blessed to have him as this winter he underwent treatment for cancer and beat it. The day before the fesitivities began, he played his first full round of golf. This is the cake my sister and I made to celebrate my grandfather's return to one of his favorite pasttimes:

Grandpa's Golf Cake

 Because of my grandparents' belief in family, because of them starting this tradition, my children know their second cousins more intimately than most people know their firsts. It was so fun to see the twenty great grandchildren traveling in a pack, fishing and bouncing and running wild. Sampson got to be underfoot for much of the family festivities in the backyard, scavenging under banquet tables, frolicking with my cousin's two-year-old Bernese Mountain dog and snuffling small cousins.

Our typical 4 am pre-dawn walks were spent restocking the hidden treasures for the weekend-long scavenger hunt and Sampson was a game little companion, sniffing out . In order to control him in such a crowd and monitor his bacon intake, I started attaching a leash to his collar. He mostly dragged it or carried it proudly in his mouth, but it was a start.

There was also time for a little bit of this--early morning writing with my sweet boy at my feet: 


Holy Biter, Batman!

When I was growing up, conventional wisdom was that when a dog nipped or bit, you 'popped' them under the chin. Never over, so they wouldn't see it coming or get head-shy of petting. This doesn't jive with our parenting style or who we are as people so I have been researching some non-violent approaches to keep Samps from being too bitey with the under-four set. 


In this, we coat Piper's palm with a smear of peanut butter, and then she calls Sampson to her and tells him to 'lick', while repeatedly praising him. The idea is that when he runs up to her, mouth open, she can hold out her palm and say 'lick', and he will do that instead. This has about a 35% success rate. The rest of the time, he just looks at her incredulously like, "Wow, you're giving it to me? It's more fun when I chase you down and you squeal but okay..." before chomping down with his needle teeth. 

2. "YIPE"

So when that doesn't work, we have tried to teach her to 'yipe', high pitched and loud, like one of his litter-mates, to give him the message that that's too much. If you know Piper, and her big-eyed, soft-spoken ways, you know that this only works when I am right there and 'yipe' for her.

3. Mama Dog Says NO

This is another one that is only effective when I am around and comes straight from the Dog Whisperer. When he gets her, I make my fingers into a claw/jaw and close them over his skull like a mama dog's jaw and hold it there making a low growl until he lets go. This is the most effective of the three, though nothing quite beats the foolproff way of keeping Piper from getting nipped--carry her; everywhere. 


If you have a great puppy-training method, I'd love to hear it! 




Favorites on Fridays: Sisters

I remember when I found out my second child was a boy, a brother for my firstborn son, a friend shared this bit of wisdom with me: It is more important to have a brother for your boy than a sister for your girl. I asked why and she said, "Because women are typically better at finding other women to fill the sister relationship but most men's default best friend is their brother." 

And after thinking about it awhile, I would agree--with a sister who lives abroad it has been necessary to find other women to fill the everyday sister role. There are a handful of friends who are 'sisters in the village of childrearing' in ways I cherish immensely. I can show up at Beth's door which she opens in PJs to fold my children easily into her family if I have to dash off to a last-minute event or doctor's appointment, a friend I am sure to call in an "I'm at the Supergiant, do you need anything?" way. Beth's always up for a walk to the playground and thrift barn; our children walk the quarter mile between our homes daily.


Locally there are many friends whose kids fit right into my crowd for a game of pick-up soccer and jam-making while their mamas go off to yoga. My three children anticipated Jessica's new baby like a long-awaited fourth sibling and there's a large crowd of women with whom I cherish conversation about kids, husbands, education, health, cooking, crafts, fitness, literature, vocations and avocations. There have also been many long-distance 'sisters' I have met over the years who have cheerleaded me and my dreams, who have been a part of my journey. 


Then there are the sisters I get to have because my brothers chose them--women who enrich my life with the differences of our backgrounds, fading as our shared history becomes longer and more significant.


While I cherish these friends, these other sisters and their unfailing support and love, their perfectly timed phone calls, their insights and thoughtfulness, the deep affection I have for each of them and their families, I call them 'sisters' meaning they are dear friends, because in truth there is nothing quite like a sister. 


After seven years and three brothers of waiting, Linden Ford finally came into my life. I remember knowing, on some innate level that my life was changing.

 I loved this baby with a fierceness unparalleled; loved bossing her around and dressing her up. With such an age difference, we bypassed the competition that sometimes plagues sisters, but we also missed sharing the same interests at the same time, converging only on horses, two years before I left for college. 


Seven years--the gap took awhile to fill and we grew up in different times, with different friends. But sometime in college, it all fell away and I saw in her a steadiness and surprising maturity, and even better, realized our shared history and genetics.


I consider myself blessed to have recognized that in my sister, I have a best friend who knows what I mean with the barest shorthand of words, who wants everything for me that I want for her, with whom I can dish about family without feeling like I need to add any disclaimers, who gets it.


JULY 1983--Seven Mile Beach

We are not exactly the same; but similar enough in voice that we can fake out our husbands on the phone, trick each other's newborns so long as we hold them facing out. She is far more savvy and stylish than I am, a rule-follower who plays her hand closer to her chest, who actually thinks before she speaks.

Linden in Roatan 2006,

As the years go by, we grow even more similar, in tone, appearance, priorities and aspirations. I am proud of the woman she is, of the honesty in our friendship, of all the ways she surpasses me, of the ways we complement each other, how roles can reverse and flip back (I used to dress her up--now it's the other way around!) with no worries...


 Linden and me, selling tickets at Hurricane Katrina benefit concert...

We can hold each other up, dust each other off, look at each other with honesty while dreaming of the future, revamping and revising, laughing hysterically...

Now we are mothers together, two little girls who despite the physical distance, share all the closeness, the drama, the understanding and compatibility of sisters...





Piper visiting newborn Quinn , 2008




The truth about sisters: we can always, always pick up exactly where we leave off.














FULL CIRCLE:  Quinn (2) and Piper (3),

reunite this Thanksgiving weekend


Today, every day, one of my favorite things is my sister..


The Incentive Quilt

Around their second birthday, I have taken each of my children on an outing to the fabric store where I let them select fabrics that I will sew into their incentive quilt. I am usually waddling through the store, seven months pregnant with the next, and the incentive is clear: get out of our bed and into your own with this lovely new quilt before the baby arrives.


The boys’ quilts are queen-sized, patchwork style, seven inch squares with bugs, trucks, spiders, flame and lava fabrics, lots of fleeces and fuzzies. I leave the bottoms open, so that I can slide a duvet in for winter months, but still enjoy them in summer, and I do absolutely no hand-quilting. These quilts would be a lot easier if I actually knew how to sew, but so much of my time is spent ripping out seams, rethreading my $99 plastic machine, fiddling with tensions. I still have to break out the manual nearly every time I wind the bobbin or replace a broken needle.


It is all worth it, though, because my boys love their quilts, drag them out to the living room to snuggle by the fire, make tents with them on the trampoline, and when my oldest spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia, he insisted on being cocooned in his. I have asked if they want new ones, if they’re bothered at 5 and 8 years old by having Scoop, Muck and Dizzy from their toddler years on their beds, but they refuse.


There was a boy I wanted to sleep with in college because I heard his mother had made him a postage stamp quilt out of all his favorite childhood clothes that graced his dorm room twin. Not only was this guy smoking hot, but I thought there must be something special, a confidence to someone who would proudly sleep under a homemade quilt with puppies and bunnies, Izod alligators and duck heads from his boyhood clothes. And I’ll confess, the creative part of me just wanted to get a good look at this quilt, see how it was put together, but I never did.


Two years ago, it was time to sew my daughter’s quilt, but it has been different. There is no coming baby, no incentive to stop sleeping in her king-sized daybed intertwined with her warm, olive-skinned limbs. I have dawdled over Piper’s quilt, partially because of the difficulty of tackling a crazy quilt, partially because her interests keep changing--“shoes, ponies, flowers!”-- and partially because life keeps interrupting us, demanding to be included in her quilt. The color scheme has expanded from red, peach and petal pink to red, peach, all shades of pink, ivory, orange, fuschia, tangerine and even the occasional bright white and pale green. Then my mother-in-law died after a long battle with breast cancer, and her loving promise to haunt us came in the form of dragonflies—we saw them everywhere, and in going through her things, I found a vest beaded with dragonflies. It had to be included in Piper’s quilt.


Cleaning out closets for my mother, I found a turn-of-the-century rag quilt that one of my father’s great aunts had made. It had moth-holes and tears, but there were sections of it that were intact, red, pink and cream, and had to be included. I also used clothes of Piper’s she had outgrown or stained: the orange and fushcia striped leggings from her 6 month old costume as a baby chicken? Yes. Her goldfish and cherry onesies? Of course. When my sister graduated from Wakeforest, she sent me the orange and hot pink paisley sheets I had given her four years earlier as her going-off-to-college present. Could I use them in Piper’s quilt? Check--putting the crazy in crazy quilt.


Flipping through the Garnet Hill catalog when Piper was at the height of her two-year-old obsession with ponies, I found sheets that had whimsical patchwork horses. I ordered a set, and then cut up the pillowcase, taking ten ponies and hand-embroidering each one on squares placed randomly in her quilt. This was the slowest part of the process—for more than a year, I went everywhere—my boys’ hockey games, toddler playtime, meetings, haircuts, car, train and plane rides, with a pony in my purse. Whenever I got demoralized, Piper would cheer me on. Last month, she told me, “You know what I will love best about my quilt? Whenever I am jumping on my bed, I can look down, and it will be like, wow I’m riding on ponies!”


She kept me company in our loft while I sewed and sewed—taking loops of fabric from my bins and blanketing her ride-on pony or wrapping her dolls, chattering away, weighing in on fabric combinations and lay outs with a keen design eye. When I was working late, bleary-eyed and accidentally sewed my finger in the machine, Piper was a level-headed three-year-old doctor, carefully bandaging and kissing it—after that, she warned me at least daily about not sewing my fingers.


Throughout all this, I finished the edits for my first novel and wrote my second. Piper’s quilt was the creative outlet when writing stumped me, the perfect escape. Manipulating fabrics, sewing crazy angles, waving off any puckering or gapping to ‘part of the vintage look’ was often easier than writing to a deadline. For two years, I dutifully recopied “finish Piper’s quilt” from To-Do list to To-Do list, along with “clean basement” and “organize junk drawers”. You can imagine which got finished first. 


This spring, just after Piper’s third birthday, I knew I was getting close, but unsure about how to finish the back. With the boys’, I simply bought plain fleece blankets and sewed the two together. But I sensed Piper’s needed something different. Strolling through Marshalls one day, I found the perfect back—a king-sized, scallop-edged, pale pink and already machine-quilted in looping color-on-color paisley pattern bedspread, on sale. It was the mature and elegant flipside, the foil to the craziness I was furiously quilting. It would mean I would have to make her quilt bigger, hand sew at least two more ponies. But never mind that. I cut the scallops off, and incorporated tiny squares into the front, for congruity—there is method to my madness.


Finally, last week, I laid the two out on top of each other and tugged and pinned, then rolled the heft up and put the two sides together, using Piper and a chair to help me quide the king-sized heft through my-little-engine-that could, the bargain basement sewing machine. And then it was done. Well, mostly done. I still want to sew on more bows, flowers and embellishments, still have a throw pillow to make out of one leftover pony, and I could always do more hand-quilting…

Piper is finally sleeping under ponies in her king-size daybed. And I’m right there beside her, and usually one or two of the boys, and at least one cat, and sometimes Daddy, and the dog snoring away on the floor. One of these days we’ll all go to sleep in our own beds and stay there, and eventually the basement will be cleaned, and the junk drawers organized too, but for now this is just fine.