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Chandra's Blog


Entries in sisters (6)



My father had a serious spider phobia, the source of many funny stories and practical jokes. 

My brothers inherited this phobia, and while I reserve the serious heebie jeebies for house centipedes, I am not a huge fan either. In 1998 I actually moved out of a cottage in Grand Cayman when a huntsman spider the size of my whole hand with her peach-pit-of-an-egg-sac moved in. You would have too.


Giant Hunstman Spider

Yesterday, my sister and I were finally going through the last of our father's things, listing and itemizing and donating. This task keeps falling off our To Do list, because once we are through all of this, the alligator suspenders, the tasseled loafers, the five gallon hats and the linens (that still, freshly-washed smell so much like him a year later Piper insisted I make them into her bed last night), the last physical vestiges of our will be gone, and that will be sad.


But we had promised my mom to get them out of her basement by the end of the school year, so we took the last of our kid-free mornings to conquer the task. I told Linden at the beginning that I was determined to stay lighthearted. We would not linger over photos or get depressed or bury our faces in his dress shirts. This was harder than either of us thought.




As I reached for one of his signature leather Orvis vests, I saw the most hideously huge wolf spider that skeeved me out so much I dry-heaved. So of course, I made my 7-months-pregnant sister deal with it while I filmed.

(I actually have made a lifelong practice of surrounding myself with people who do better than I would in a crisis.)

See below:




After he was safely relocated far far away from either of our houses or vehicles, after we wiped the hysterical tears from under our eyes my sister and I realized: somewhere, up in Heaven maybe, Dad is doubled over laughing.


Thanks for helping keep it light today, Dad. We miss you.



Pay it Forward

My sister and I typically do our weekly grocery shopping together; it is environmentally friendly to take one car, and makes things infinitely more pleasant, especially with kids along. Today was no exception and we had two in tow, her Harper and my Pip, home with another ear infection. Harper was wearing a chunky knit cap over her blonde wisps, her formal Christmas dress and running through the aisles singing Christmas carols. Pip had her hooded sweatshirt pulled up like a red gnome's cap to disguise sickbed hair that neither of us had the heart to tackle before we left and a little more shuffle to her step as the ibuprofen kicked in.

It was a typical Tuesday and we were planning menus for upcoming events, searching for a dropped coupon, debating the merit of trying dairy-free or gluten-free first to help prevent Piper's ear infections, and chasing down Harper, when something surprising happened. 

Harper (photo credit: Nick Nowak)

I was off tracking down cocoa for our upcoming caroling expedition, and as my sister tells it, an older gentlemen who they had passed several times was watching Harper's antics, and Pip's gentle big-sisterly shadowing. Harper had started toting around a stuffed reindeer from the seasonal section and by the time they got to the dairy department, the man finally approached my sister.

He handed her a twenty dollar bill, and asked to please buy Harper the stuffed reindeer she was carrying, and to go back for something for Piper as well. My sister told him it wasn't necessary (he had no way of knowing how, unlike her older sister, Harper has no trouble parting with toys before leaving stores) and tried to give back the money. The gentleman was joined by his wife, who explained that they had no young children, and even their youngest grandchild was 25, and there was nobody to buy gifts for. Harper, in her party dress, exuberantly caroling throught the Giant Food Store, was the epitome of the Christmas spirit. 


My sister asked for their address, to share a card, or express thanks, and they shook their heads.

"Just, what is it you young folks say, pay it forward," they said, and then they were gone, smiling at the girls clutching their new reindeer and stuffed moose toys.

I find myself so heartened by this tiny act, excited to discover the opportunity to give back, and still moved to tears by the story the cashier who witnessed this shared--about the stranger who paid for the $500 dress uniform for a dedicated marine whose credit card wouldn't go through, and asked only for him to write her every year and let her know he was okay in return. 

These threads of kindness create the fabric of our humanity and feed our innate desire for goodness and connection. If you have an idea on how we could repay this touching, very unexpected kindness, or a pay it forward story, please feel free to share it here. 


Favorites on Friday -- Harper

I love HarperCollins, who brought CHOSEN to life as a hardcover and last month, in paperback, and I am having a great time on the blog tours with TLC and ChickLitPlus, but this post is about another Harper debut, my sweet niece born on 11/11/11 at 11:11 who has me smitten. Harper Ford

What a fantastic sister I have to not only move from the Caribbean to the PA farmhouse in the apple orchard only a hundred yards from my front door with her instant playmate daughter for my daughter, Piper's 'sister-cousin', but then to give birth to another sweet baby who brings magic and her angel sphere to our life every day. 

My love for babies is no secret--I will travel to orphanages in Eastern Europe to hold babies and have cherished that early time with each of my three. There is a frequent revisiting of this issue in the Hoffman House (captured in my article "Are You Done?") a constant questioning about whether or not this sphere will only visit our house in the form of nieces and nephews from now on... 

Harper in our lives is all the fun of baby time--walking up to steal her away for a prolonged visit at our house while my sister sleeps, play with her, and then the ability to drop her back off if she squawks too much.

What a gift for my kids as well! I knew Piper would love her (and accelerate her campaign big time for Piper and Harpera baby sister of her own) and Max has always been obsessed with babies, but one of my biggest delights was when Hayden held her for the first time. 

Hayden is a great big tough ten-year-old now, bustling from hockey games to researching rare reptiles to hip-hop dance class and interested in all things Flyers and Lego. I put a week-old Harper in his arms during our extended family's Sunday Night Dinner, and her pure innocence and magic touched something in him--he started laughing, the delicious, uncontrolled, joyful chortling of his toddlerhood, a hearty belly- laugh I haven't heard from him in ages. It didn't stop--he just kept laughing, marveling over her toes, her tiny fingers clutching his, the way she dreams with dramatic rapid eye movement, lids open...  

Today, my favorite thing on Friday is Harper, and the rest of her lovely family, the gift of getting to raise my family in this extended village, and be the doting auntie to its newest member. 

Auntie C and Harper Ford


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..