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Chandra's Blog


Entries in live in the now (4)


MONDAY MUSING -- Stop. Look. Listen.

As a writer, I often find straddling two worlds: the fantasy one I am creating while my kids are off at school, and the real one.

Transitioning between the two is sometimes fuzzy, and I end up befuddled at noon when the kids clamber in, starving and full of stories and smelling like the air outside and the paint of the art room, the rubber of their gym shoes. 

I sometimes forget to leave the world of my characters with the snap of my laptop case, and I linger in other countries, in the sweltering heat of summer in the Caribbean or the heartbreak of Northern Afghanistan while I'm stirring their macaroni and cheese. 

So I'm trying a little something new these days, based on a desire to be more mindful. Recently I wrote about wanting to break up with my iPhone because I felt like it encouraged a disconnect with the most important people in my life. I couldn't do it, but one of my resolutions was to be more present in my home life. 

I've employed a new tactic in this quest for mindfulness and it involves the wooden sign from the boys' Christmas train. I accidentally threw out the base to it in a post-holiday purge, but I've repurposed it. I'm having my kids move it around like our four season Elf on the Shelf, so that it will catch my eye in new places and remind me of the person, the mother, I want to be.

I want to look at the people I love, especially those of bellybutton height. I want to stop what I am doing--reading about war-ravaged lands or editing for a friend or finding just the right words to describe the magnetic sensation between new lovers--and look in their eyes when they are telling me about their class trip to the wood shop or showing me a recently-mastered cartwheel. 


I have asked everyone in the family to do this when we talk to each other: to stop, to give the speaker the courtesy of our eyes and ears. So far they are enjoying moving the sign each day. It's not perfect yet--last night I was in the middle of writing an email and not following my own rule, so Piper picked the sign up and stood in front of me with it like a pint-size picketer. I'll let you know how it goes. 


In the meantime, I'd love to know: what do you do to stay present? 

* *** *


Weekly Dog Blog -- Sampson, 8 weeks

Age: 8 weeks 

Weight: 20.4 lbs


Yesterday, Sampson turned 8 weeks old and already he feels like a member of the family. After a whirlwind week of sleeping on the floor in strange positions, being chewed on in the dark, rising at dawn, over-caffeinating in the afternoons, peppered with bouts of blinding cuteness and much gallumphing about, it feels like he has always been here, guiding us with his puppy ways.




Lesson #1 -- Appreciate the dawn: 

I am not being sarcastic here. J and I have never been able to let our children 'cry it out'; why would we listen to the horrible yips and yelps coming from the kitchen when our hairy baby woke up lonely? So there has been some sleeplessness. We all take shifts sleeping with Sampson in his cozy spot in the kitchen. 

Max takes the midnight tour of duty with Sampson



When he gets up for the day, as early as 4:50 am as the birds are just thinking about trying out their morning chirps, I do too.  We go outside and putter, pull weeds in the garden, take out the compost, feed the cats and water the vegetables. The world is quiet and we have had the good fortune to see a doe and fawn, a red-headed woodpecker and a fox heading home. 

I had forgotten how much I cherish early rising, how many things can be done before all the little towheads stagger out of their beds demanding bacon and hugs. And much like a human baby, Sampson often comes back in for an early morning snooze, which means I get some writing time with a faithful dog at my feet--something that's been missing for too long. sleeping after a swim 

LESSON #2 -- Be present:

I don't mean this in the 'burn your patchouli stick and fold yourself into full lotus and breathe in some chi', but in the 'this puppy has grown 4.5 lbs in a week and will be a full-on dog by Christmas' way. Enjoy who he is right now. Lie on the floor with him. Coax everyone out on another lap of our evening walk (bonus: Sampson sleeps better when he's tuckered out!)Evening walk Watch with amazement and joy as he pounces on the clover flowers or discovers the tangy zip of onion grass. 

I had an idea to take a weekly photo with Sampson and the same, standard object to show his growth. I picked a tennis ball, since he was frolicking and mauling one at the time before I remembered that in a very short space of time, a tennis ball will disappear in his cavernous jaws. (Jonah used to treat the boys' baseballs as gobstoppers, crunched into nothing.) Nevertheless, here's your NOW photo of Sampson.A boy and his ball


For his part, Sampson keeps me present and on my toes in the more practical way--if I lose sight of the now, lose my awareness of my surroundings, stop watching his every toddling, snuffling move, he brings me right back by peeing on the floor. (Today's score? Me: 4, Sampson: 6) Some days are better than others.

It is also very difficult for me to report these infractions to J without feeling like Parker Posey's, yuppie, therapy-attending, neurotic-Wiemaraner-owning character in "Best in Show",  without using words like 'pee-pee' and 'poopie'.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, there's something waiting to be added to your Netflix queue now. 

House training has been a challenge, compounded by the fact that we don't have a big dog around to show him the way. My boys have offered to pee outside for him, but I just don't think it's the same, cross-species. 


The message for my family? Lesson #3: Appreciate Mom's Cooking

"How come Sampson gets fed before any of us?" one of my boy's wailed when they woke up to see him chin-deep in his bowl, crunching away.

In part, this is because Sampson appreciates what I make. He sits politely as I poach his egg, maybe just the slightest wriggle of eager anticipation, smiling his canine grin. There's no, "When are we going to get some real food from the store?" or "Why do you have to bake our bread!" or "This smells like throw up!" or "This again?!" Sampson eats the same meal of puppy chow and poached egg with gusto every day. Of course, just like my human children, there is some snacking between meals... 

Busted in the snack cupboard!
BUSTED in the snack cupboard


$40 in Petsmart chew toys have got nothing on toilet paper rolls, the pool bag, Max's red Keens, two pairs of my flip-flops, the feathered cat fishing rod, and a certain pink squeaky bath toy.  Here, cross-species works just fine. Sampson will 'play' with any and all objects left out, testing them with his little needle-sharp puppy teeth.



"Something shiny just went over the trench!"

The redirect is a staple of parenting. What can be more attractive than poking your sister, teasing your brother, or in Sampson's case, following after a pack of small compadres, the littlest of which wears ruffled and flouncing fabrics that just beg for a nip? How can we tempt you to put your energy and impulses elsewhere?

Outside, Piper has learned to Beauty and the (petite) Beastcarry a chew toy in hand and when he nips at her flanks, she's an expert at the art of distraction.  I think she'll make an excellent mother. 


Finally, LESSON #6 -- Time your rewards

In an attempt to be expedient, to quickly reinforce the positive of going to the bathroom outside, I whipped out a dog treat while poor Samps was still mid-crouch, throwing the deuce. Misunderstanding what I wanted from him, (we've been practicing 'sit' a lot this week), Sampson promptly sat. Right in it. 

We love our Newfoundlands for their gentle nature, not their intellect.

Stay tuned next week to see if Sampson has learned to sleep through the night yet... 


MONDAY MUSING - What to Do with the Boys, Part 3

Over the past few weeks, I have been examining the looming question of how to handle the boys' education next year in a three part series called What to Do with the Boys? Part One and Part Two are linked. 

I certainly hope this is part 3 of 3, and that the wind you might be feeling in your own corner of the world is a collective sigh from me and everyone who has listened to me chew this topic to death exhaling.


Sometime in between me writing part one and two, Hayden started making more noise about returning to school, until the rumblings became a definite roar. I picked up the application and financial form, while visions of khakis and approved collared shirts danced in my head. I imagined trying to come up with four gluten-free lunches a week that could leave with him in the morning, not need to be heated up, and still be tasty at noon. I wondered about things like bedtimes and alarm clocks, which we haven't had to worry about for a year, and about impromptu trips for the paperback book tour or for HN International...

Being tied to the schedule and regimen of a school year; honestly, it isn't what I would choose. But it is what Hayden chose, and became adamant, even insistent on as last week drew to a close.

"You won't even have to do anything! I'll get up on my own and I'll just ride my bike and do all my homework and everything without you even having to ask me!" His reasons: so he can be with friends all day, and because there is a science lab at the school. 


As I put together his portfolio and see 490 photos of Hayden out in nature or in front of museum exhibits and landmarks all over the US,  as I read his blog posts, I confess I am a little disappointed that this adventure is ending. Hayden wants to be with his peers all day, what I imagine is an age-appropriate development. I applaud his ability to make a decision and wonder what new kinds of learning and development will happen for him in 4th grade at his old school. 


Max, in a surprising show of independence, maintained his desire to keep learning at home. I go back and forth on this one, but for now, I will continue to put together learning groups with peers and YBC and finding things that will keep him busy, because you know being separated from Hayden for 7 hours/day will equal one squirrelly little brother. 


Piper will go on to her next year at the preschool which is in the same campus as Hayden's school. A bonus: she will no longer be the only member of the family 'going to school'--something she has started to question. 


It feels peaceful to have decided, so that the Virgo in me can start to envision next year. What it means is our lives will have more of a lot of things. More structure. More writing time for me. More time to exercise. Also, I think with a twinge, more time apart. Less freedom.


What we will be losing: Mondays like today, where I scrambled eggs at 8:30 for breakfast as they slowly rolled out of bed and clambered next to their little sister on the couch. As they clucked over and examined her painfully emerging molar, I set up the boys' math sheets around nine. Hayden claimed growing pains and went off to shower instead of finishing his work while Max industriously tackled his. Then it was time for two hours of gymnastics and pick up lacrosse with the home school crowd. After denying H's playdate request on the grounds of unfinished work, back home to finish Hayden's math and both of their reading time while I worked on printing out their old blogs for the portfolio. Lunch and then an inspired moment between the brothers when Hayden did what J and I haven't been able to for the past two years--taught Max to ride a two wheel bike in the perfect May sunshine.

Hayden: cheerleading and fist pumping. Max hooting: I finally conquered my fears! Both with grins as wide as their little faces.

Followed by more brother bike riding, Hayden teaching him the fine art of the skid and off-roading. Followed by challenging each other at brain teasers, visiting with my Dad, and then friends who stopped by to jump on the trampoline. Together, they changed the water for their tadpoles and went to check out the progress at the garden, and try to get a closer look at a new Canada goose who has just built her nest nearby. On the agenda for tonight--making pizza and family swim, then out to Rita's for water ice to celebrate Max's accomplishment. 


Perhaps I romanticize this too much. These moments, long days like this won't disappear--and maybe they will be sweeter because of their infrequency? Maybe the following year, Hayden will decide to learn at home and Max will decide he wants to see what school is all about? Or maybe we'll all live on a converted tugboat. Or spend our winter becoming fluent in Spanish while living in the Bay Islands. Who knows?

One of Jon's mom's favorite sayings was "Hard to say..." I see her with her head cocked to the side, her cheek tucked in between her back teeth as she ponders this one alongside me. Hard to say...

For now, I think we can put this issue to bed and enjoy the incredible weather and the coming summer, do something that is one of my biggest challenges: live in the now.











LEAST Favorite on THURSDAY--bad hobby blogger review

Tomorrow is Friday, and I was planning to write my Favorites on Friday post as I fly over the southeastern United States about how much I love my winter sojourn to the warm, to my old stomping grounds in the Caribbean where my sister and friends and sunshine and glorious ocean wait for me. I was going to talk about how my kids have been debating for the past week what they will do very first: Run to the Climbing Tree--a wild and gnarled sea grape up the beach, or catch lizards or hermit crabs, or maybe mole crabs, or maybe just run into the ocean? They consider the merits of going right to Aunt Linden's house to feed the iguanas in her yard, or knocking on doors to see if any of their Christmastime friends are home, if anyone wants to do any of the above with them.

And I realized I don't want to be fussing with internet connection when I get there, don't want to worry about getting my Favorites on Friday post up. It's bad enough to actually have to unzip our suitcases to get out the bathing suits. So I thought I would get a jump on my Friday post a day early, and talk about one of my least favorite things: waking up to a crap review from a blogger. 

Prior to my book going out, I didn't know how this worked, but here's what I understand: these bloggers get your books for free from the publisher, in hopes that they will spread the word, taking a risk that instead they might be spewing a little venom. And a couple of mornings a week, I get a Google alert, open the link and hope for the best. More often than not, it's a lovely way to start the day. And then there was today. I get that not every book is for everyone, and that it is all part of the game--this new world of amateur internet reviewers.  But it still feels lousy to hear that my book had the 'worst ending of any book they read all year'. 

I would love for all hobby review bloggers to read this post by Jenna Blum. There are real people on the other end of these books. I really did ignore my children in the years it took to write this story. I have given up cozy nights with my husband and early mornings in bed and all television in favor of editing. I love my characters, flaws and all. I wrote this novel because I believe in it, and I sent it out to be published hoping for connection. I really do get up each morning with a cup of tea or in today's case, lie in bed with my laptop and a snoring toddler, and read the google alerts of my paper baby. 
So... to this morning's naysayer: I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. Thanks for taking a chance on it.

Today I'm packing my bikini and flip flops and some books. I'll be reading Leah Stewart's The Myth of You and Me, Kristin Kimball's The Dirty Life, Kelly Simmons' Standing Still and I will be editing two manuscripts for friends. 
Tomorrow, I am doing one of my most favorite things on Friday: I'm off to the Climbing Tree with my kids.