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Chandra's Blog


Entries in love story (7)


Googling Old Loves

You've all done it. Insomnia leads to a benign browse, a quick PeopleSearch, and then ashamed, you clear the whole history, so as not to offend the sweet person sleeping there beside you, because, really, you are perfectly happy in this life, it was only that you... wondered. Where is he now?

[Do you know how many Neil Henry Murphy's there are in the world? Enough that I never found the rosy- cheeked Irish boy who cried when his aggressive iguana Boomer accidentally froze to death in the Cornell winters when the power went out. This was before we drank Guinness at Ruloffs, before he told me about his mother, before we kissed in the snow while Dakota ran circles around us at Plantations, before he read my journal, before we planned to move to Mexico after graduation, before we broke each others' hearts a little.]

Googling old loves is rarely a good idea, but this week, I did it again. A year of loss, coupled with a return to riding alongside my daughter, and grouchily crossing over to Forever 39 brewed a perfect interwebs search engine storm. Despite my loose grasp on basic math, I was riding a 25-year-old dressage horse and listening to two riders at the barn talk about how a horse there jumped until he was in his late twenties when it hit me: Twenty years ago, I sold Satch, the horse who saved me from the pitfalls of teenage girldom--eating disorders, Salem lights, overachieving, golf course drinking and late night boy's house drive-bys. When I went off to Cornell, Satch was seven. Which means this spring, with other racehorse babies, he will turn 27.


Which means he could still very well be alive.


Trial ride on Satch

Satch, a 3 year old, green broke, off-the-track Thoroughbred was for sale because he didn't particularly like to race. Which isn't to say that he didn't like to run very fast, or buck, or do both at the same time. Satch was 16.2 hands; at his withers, where the crest of the neck meets the dip of his back, he was almost as tall as the peak of my hairsprayed bangs. 

They say that when the trainers came to get him to race, he turned his back and gazed off into nothing out the half-door of his stall. He didn't kick or get mean, but he passively resisted, and I thought of Ferdinand the Bull in the childrens' story, sitting under a cork tree smelling clovers, because he didn't want to fight. 


I fell in love with Satch's earnestness. A little bit naughty, equal parts stubborn and curious, willing to try almost everything I asked of him*.

(*Except group riding classes in a ring)



With Satch, horses became my sanctuary, my reason to exit stage left when the drama of high school amped up, pull on my boots and shovel some grounding shit. Satch and his equine companions Star and Bailey were my ego-crushing, esteem-building, all-encompassing world for four years. We raced around cornfields, went midnight riding with boys, jumped over homemade cinderblock and PVC obstacles, competed, trailered up into the Catskills and as far as south as Tennessee. On hot summer days, I dragged Satch over to his pasture fence and used its rails to climb on his bare back in my bikini with a dog-eared novel. Sometimes I read on his sun-warmed back for hours while he grazed; sometimes he promptly tossed me off under the silver maples and then looked at me like, what?!


When I left for Cornell, my dad and siblings did a winter of feeding/watering and turnout, and then with  my impending departure to work in a Romanian orphanage, with my blessing, we agreed it would be best if they sold the horses.

Satch was sold with his buddy Bailey, a then twenty-something Thoroughbred/Clydesdale buckskin dinosaur that belonged to my father.  He went to a girl who was me, four years earlier, who needed a horse like Satch, a girl with time and devotion and ambition.

I went on to work with horses in the Caribbean, Spain and the Rockies. And while Satch was my exasperating, honest first love, it never occurred to me to look him up.

Until now.


Last week, I found an ISO Facebook group for people in the PA/NJ/DE looking for horses they have lost. You bet your lucky horseshoe I joined it.

I hauled boxes of old photos out of the basement during the recent snowstorm, the kids leaning over my shoulder and screeching in horror at our high-waisted stonewashed jeans, marveling how Epcot looks exactly the same as when their aunt was a baby (on a leash!), exclaiming over my mom's owl glasses, their grandfather's short-shorts, my feathered hair and a misguided stint into platinum blonde, their dad's boyhood curls/choir robe, and my untweezed eyebrows. [Hayden: Mom, if we EVER get stranded on a desert island, and we don't have tweezers, I'm going to make you some, because I cannot live with those caterpillars!]

With my trainer's wisdom that I should be prepared for whatever I learned, I posted these photos and this:

Trying to track down my childhood OTTB. We lost his jockeyclub records and tattoo number in a house fire so I don't even have those--I'm aware that this is a long shot. His barn name is Satch/Satchmo, he's 16.2, dark bay, no white on face, trace of white above both right hooves. He would be the ripe old age of 27 now. Purchased from my home in 1995 when I went to college. Earnest, affectionate personality, loved jumping and trails. I'd love any leads or stories from his life. Thank you!"

I know a twenty-year-old quest for a dark bay OTTB without his jockey club registry is like trying to find a seven-year-old girl who doesn't have a stash of rainbow loom rubber bands and pony club chapter books under her bed.

People in the group wished me well, and agreed that his kind eyes made the quest worthwhile. I whipped out my phone at every alert, but no leads.

And then I remembered: my mother saves EVERYTHING. Every receipt, every canceled check, every scrawled note. BLESS HER HEART -- I climbed into the stacks over her desk, where there are literally dozens of meticulously labeled three-ring-binders and found it within five minutes: the canceled check with the name of the woman who purchased Satch twenty years ago. The woman's last name rang a bell--wasn't this the name of the local farm where Piper's classmates ride?

A speedy internet search confirmed the woman who purchased Satch is part of a multi-generational family-run-farm fifteen minutes from my house.

The email has been sent, with photos and as many details as I can spare. Hoping. For another lead. For a story from his life, to introduce him to my family... or anything.

Stay tuned.



Summer Reading -- My Foreign Cities

I may have mentioned my inability to put books down, my need to read them in single, sleepless, ignore-my-kids binges. So stranded on an island (with a restaurant next door) for the past two months with little to do beyond swim with my kids, write, knead dough and hang wash was a good time to dive into reading. Several recent summer reads were courtesy of my agent, Maria Massie, fellow clients with stories to disappear inside. I'm excited to profile a few of them here over the next few weeks.

My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro is the memoir of the author's decision at seventeen to fall in love with the larger-than-life Stephen, despite the fact that her dreams included travel, serial dating and adventure, and Stephen had cystic fibrosis and a short life expectancy.  


It takes a certain level of fortitude to start a book like this. You know anything that is called a 'modern, true Love Story'  will take you on an emotional jag. There's a commitment you have to make to ride this bittersweet ride alongside Liz and Stephen. However, once you start, you, like their myriad cast of supporting characters, want to see them through to the end, and what lies beyond. 


The memoir grew out of this NYTimes Modern Love essay, where she addressed the aftermath--what to do with the frozen sperm of Stephen years later, when her life had taken its own course. A beautiful read in its own right. 


For me, some of the most familiar writing of the memoir was around the hospital time. I have done my share of time on those conversion chairs and felt the otherness of life that moved inside this maddeningly slowed time. I'm familiar with the reassuring security and limitations of modern medicine. I understood the love-hate relationship with the hospital; that she wanted to go back there the day after Stephen died was so telling, because of the familiarity, the comfort of being taken care of. I cried for her when the staff started to distance themself from the case at the end, and loved the bravery of both Elizabeth and Stephen's doctor in their final conversation. 

Time, Liz, Stephen and CF are the main characters of this story, and the way each is transformed in the decade they have is a spellbinding read. There were parts of the book where I laughed (when he tried shotgunning a beer through his stomach tube) and when I was completely moved--the conversation they have where Stephen is intubated, and can't speak, and Liz interprets for him. The life events they endure in this short period, the grave decisions they faced and the intensity of their love story were underscored by the unknown but looming expiration date. Liz and Stephen packed a lifetime of passion, intensity and adventure into their decade. The author does an admirable job of capturing the realities of this without falling into the maudlin, saccharine or trite. 


I disappeared into their story for an entire day, the same one where I left Utila and J for this month, and came out a little shaken and tender-feeling, ultimately grateful for having walked through this with Liz as a savvy guide. The overwhelming take-home was an enhanced appreciation for my own love story, and the apparent luxury of our time together. 

* *** *






The Ides of March

Sixteen years ago today, my oldest niece Freya was born on the Ides of March, which means soon she will getting her learner's permit and taking to the roads. Happy Birthday Freya--we love you!

Freya at the wheel, 1998

The phone call I got announcing her arrival sixteen years ago makes it easy for me to remember that the same night, J and I had our first date, by which I mean to say, engaged in some drunken dance floor moves at Rumheads Nightclub. I remember Coolio's "1-2-3-4" was played more than once.

Way back when

I'm not sure which is scarier--to think of my niece all grown up at the wheel, or that J and I made a connection that set the course of our future in the bar underneath the World Gym on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman when we both barely old enough to drink in the United States. Sixteen years ago!


What a long strange trip it has been. In my essay, A Wedding Planner Hangs Up Her Headset, I wrote about the practical applications of our relationship, what love has come to mean to me as an adult and what I wish new brides could know from a vantage point a little farther down the road.

In some ways, we were musing in the shower this morning, it seems like we have always been together, and in others, like sixteen years have flown by. How did we get this far? I made a list of a few things that have made this relationship, which is also a deep friendship, feel easy.


1) we both consider ourselves equally lucky to have each other--by this I mean to say, there is no quiet one-upmanship. Which is not to say that I don't think how damn lucky he is when I tote the garbage and recycling cans back and forth to the curb twice a week, a stereotypically male job. But I also acknowledge how fortunate I am to have a guy who can fix almost anything, who gets up in the frozen pre-dawn stillness on Saturday mornings all winter long to coach the boys' hockey teams, who never lets a day go by without telling me I am loved and desired. 

27 May 2000


2) we take turns holding each other up. And we take turns falling apart. You can let life's knocks break you, or shape you. 

(You can read more about this in the essay about the birth of our son Hayden and our baptism by fire into parenthood)



3) we adopt a teamwork approach. This applies to everything from parenting to yard maintenance to hockey weekends to shaving the dog, which you may see more of in a photo essay called "Shearing Season" in an upcoming dog blog. 


2005 4) he makes me laugh Usually by saying all those things I think but might not say. He tries to whisper them, but he's not a very good whisperer. It runs in the family. Did I mention he also makes both the best coffee and mojitos I have ever tasted?


5) we try to shower and/or have coffee together daily to catch-up. This has been important in keeping us connected during the busier stages of our lives. Sometimes I drive him nuts by bringing notebooks and day planners and agendas to these get togethers. Well, not in the shower. 




 6) we have a commitment to being each other's port in the storm. We make our home a place where people build each other up and expect this of the kids as well. 


7) we travel separately. This doesn't mean I am turning down opportunities for us to go away as a couple in favor of spa weekends with the girls. (Although, wait, that sounds really great right now.) But with three little kids and an enormous, slobbery dog, there are few people willing to take on our brood for extended periods of time. This means that when we need to recharge, we drop each other off at the airport and look forward to hearing via Skype about how it was kiteboarding in the Bahamas or visiting with friends and family in the Caribbean or the Rockies, and checking in on the chaos that ensues when one of us is single parenting at the Hoffstead.

8) he is willing to be married to a writer. This comes up all the time when I am a guest author at book clubs--how does your husband handle your writing? Or let's be honest, people want to know: how does he feel about the character of Dan in CHOSEN? Truth of fiction: Is J the inspiration for the character Dan?

The writer and blogger extraordinaire Julianna Baggott has a standard question in her writerly half-dozen interview about advice for those seeking a long-term relationship with a writer. The answers are painfully, honestly hilarious. Actually, pretty much all of her stuff is great. You should check it out.

For the long answer, you have to invite me to your book club. But the short answer is that J handles it beautifully and he lets me post sappy blogs about how much I adore him (sixteen years later!) on the internet. I also include photos of him doing awesome, sporty things, where he looks really hot. 



9) we have similar passions. Wanderlust, the ocean, family, sports, reading, words and nameplay, and most importantly, a dedication to the nurturing of all things Hoffspring--be they pink or furry or scaled or feathered. See, I said feathered. Don't get me wrong. Things aren't perfect. I'm still working on him about the chickens. 

J and the kids at Barkers Beach, 2012











So there you have them, my off-the-cuff Nine Commandments for 16 Years of Happiness. But I am sure there are more and from those far more seasoned in the game than I am. So I'd love to know: What do you and your partner do to ensure a happy relationship? 




MONDAY MUSING -- catching up 

These days (or dark early mornings), I am a product of mismanaged caffeine and too much on my mind. Up since 3:25 am, having great fun checking out my revamped website and getting a little silly with the tagging feature for my blog. 

And then in the darkness, little Pip snuggled in beside me, I did something I haven't done in a long time--I wrote in my journal for two blissful hours. So much going on, so many things to say, so much to catch up on now that my frenetic working pace (the writing of my second novel) is slowing.

There is the good... so many exciting things happening for CHOSEN as we near paperback release date, like the Sutter Home Wine Book Club contest (please take a second to vote), selling the Brazilian rights and most recently, the nod from Target, selecting CHOSEN as an Emerging Author pick. I get so tickled about the idea of riding up the escalator in my local store and seeing my novel in the endcap... In fact, I will probably go spend some money there today to show them my gratitude (and pick up birthday gifts for the upcoming kid parties.) It is a huge testament to Maya Ziv (paperback) Sally Kim (hard cover) and Maria Massie (agent) that this book is getting good legs the second time around and I look so forward to talking about it again at upcoming book clubs and events. Stay tuned for information about stops on CHOSEN's blog tour this November/December as well as radio interviews and new reviews.

Remember all my worries about education this year, how after a year of homeschool, book tour and travel, we finally chose traditional school for all three kids? Good news: Hayden is thriving, Max is hanging in there and making me proud, and Pip is blossoming. And I am getting boatloads of writing work and even some running in those twelve hours a week when they are all there. Though J and I still toss around thoughts of next year, of more travel, alternative education, this is working for now.


Then there is the tough... two recent deaths--a father who leaves behind twins the same age as Hayden to cancer, and the loss of the lovely Brazilian man who baptized our children and charmed us at gourmet group dinners with his sparkling eyes and irreverent wit. The anniversary of the loss of dear Matty G looms large. An upcoming surgery for Hayden and Max's tricky transitions to academic life (see above, on the making me proud.) 


And there is the hopeful... a second novel, a love story, off to my agent last week. With that, a chance to return to other writing, to blogging, to reading, to revising and editing with friends. There is also a baby, a new niece, due in a matter of weeks. And of course, Sampson, who continues to challenge and charm us all. You'll be hearing more from me on all of these fronts soon... 


Please let me know if you would like to take a turn on the WRITERS ON WEDNESDAY series, or the DOG BLOG or if your book club would like to chat about CHOSEN. 






Monday Musing... SHARE THE LOVE

Dear Readers,

  The newest book I am working on is a love story, something I dreamed all in one night while I was on tour in Santa Monica last October and had the window open so I could hear the carnival at the pier and smell the salt air of the Pacific. It is a departure from some of the grittier, more realistic stories I have done in the past. The story I dreamed is a testimony to the mysteries and transcendental nature, the incredible power of love. Very Nicholas Sparks. The trouble is, as I am writing, the reality of relationships keeps finding its way into the story. All I see are the obstacles, the challenges, the everyday.

  I want to be swept away by a love story again. I remember in the week leading up to our wedding an incredible giddiness, a goldenness, feeling like our feet didn’t touch the ground, that we were both the essence of love, in large part because we were surrounded by it. Everyone we held dear was in one place, friends from all corners of our lives meeting and mingling. Meals magically appeared, and disappeared. (thanks Mom!) My aunt arrived from Boston with boxes and boxes of lily of the valley from her garden packed in damp paper towel and its incredible spring-like scent filled the air. Every moment that I was not with J was bittersweet with the anticipation of seeing him again. When we were near each other but not actually touching, it felt like magnets, a pull to be closer.

We didn’t have to do anything that week except go through the carefully orchestrated steps of my dream wedding week: rock climbing with all of our friends, then sushi and champagne and dancing in the city for the girls while the boys went to surf and rock the night in Atlantic City, then spa day, and down to the Victor Café by bus for incredible Italian and opera. The morning of the wedding there was a fun run, and golf, and 27 May 2000everyone decorating the reception tables with buckets and buckets of flowers, and people fussing over my hair and makeup, and then the ceremony, where I cried actual tears of joy.

I remember leaving the church feeling like I had just taken a deep breath, that I was diving into something huge and hopeful. I love the photo (left) that captures this moment. And then I remember the weather clearing so that we could walk from our ceremony to the reception in a wooded path lit with fairy lights and luminaries… It was the happiest day of my life.


I need more of this in my story, to remember the love as I write this. I love my husband now, (see A wedding planner hangs up her headset) so fiercely. More than I did that day, more honestly and deeply. I appreciate all the things that he does, how hard he works for his family, the way he brings me coffee or tea just when I need it, the power of two. Every time the phone rings, I hope it is him, even if we have just hung up.

This week, he took each of our children on a special date—Hayden downtown to the DaVinci exhibit at the Franklin Institute, Max to Dave and Busters where they hit it big in the arcade and came home with armloads of pixie sticks and ring pops, and Piper, out to lunch where they split a trough of Nicoise salad and lemonade and rode the carousel twice. And for me? J speaks my love language. My favorite part of this weekend was Saturday night, while the kids were watching a movie, J and I worked side by side on our basement, him muttering curses and hammering in the subfloor, me painting. That’s modern romance, fifteen-years-in romance.

While there is no denying we make a good team, there is nothing romantic about holding up my side of the garbage bag while we drain the stagnant vomit water from Max's barfed-on linens out of the broken washing machine.


Here's where you come in. Here's the SHARE THE LOVE.

This story I am writing is about that new love, about tumbling into love, that kind when your feet don’t touch the ground. I need a little inspiration here. Recently, SheWrites and the Huffington Post Divorce editor ran a writing contest for people to share the moment when they knew it was over. (Incidentally, my friend Kelly Simmons was one of the winners—see here.)

I want to try something else. I want to hear from you the moment you knew this was The One. Celebrate your love story—flood me with the happiest moments of your relationship, of the 'A-ha, I want to spend my life with this person'. Or simply tell me the most romantic thing your partner has ever done.

You can share them by commenting below, or send them to me privately at chandrahoffman @ mac dot com.  And just so we're clear, if it's really good, you might see hints of your love story in my upcoming novel. 


With thanks and love,