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Chandra's Blog


Entries in travel (9)


Huffington Post Travel link

I'm excited to announce that my latest travel article on an island near and dear to my heart was picked up by Huffington Post. 

Click here: Utila -- The Authentic Island Experience Still Exists



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. 

* *** *




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. 

* *** *






Piper to School -- La Vida Tranquila

the steps to Piper's schoolToday I walked my daughter up the hill to her school on the island of Utila. The stairs are cracking and steep, some as high as Piper’s skinny thigh. At the top, there is a huge mango tree that arches wide, casting shade over the crest of the hill. Often we have to stop and wait for the little boys at the top to stop throwing stones and chunks of wood at the higher branches to knock fruit down.

When we reach the high street at the top, we turn--and to be honest, catch our breath--and we look out over the main street, and the sea beyond it.

Then Piper chatters to me as we wind through the street above Town to Wisdom Paradise Bilingual School. There are houses with broken beer bottles cemented to the peaks of their walls, an effective if primitive security system, and others where chickens run wild in the fuschia bougainvillea. Piper talks about her classmates, who earned the most smiley faces, who sat on Time Out and why, how she showed her beloved Miss Nery to make healthy sandwiches of her snack, (raisins and peanuts) and she rattles off the new words of the day in two languages.


 “You know, you can speak to the Spanish kids in English, but you have to do it in a Spah-nish accent,” Piper tells me, spreading her mouth wide to form the vowels in the island dialect. She knows how to use the term “among you”, the island’s version of the American South’s "y’all" or our hometown Philly’s “youse guys”.

“Clean up clean up, all among you clean up,” she sings the Barney theme song, clutching my hand in hers. HerPiper and Bine in uniform, crazy hair day uniform is the school’s cheery yellow T-shirt with a logo of a red-roof schoolhouse on a rock in the sea, and a happy dolphin jumping in the baby blue wave behind it.


Of the ten children in her class who swing on the row of swings behind the colorfully painted fence, Piper speaks the least Spanish. Sometimes, this makes her nervous. Today, right before she follows her friends through the gate, a handful of plucked cherry hibiscus to hand to Miss Nery, she throws her arms around my waist and squeezes hard. She holds on for a moment, and then runs to join in.


The gate to Wisdom Paradise










In a few short months, we will go back to the States. I’ll walk Piper through the same suburban town where I grew up, to the same private school I attended. The trees will be grandfatherly oaks and silvers maples, spindly hemlocks and bushy Scotch pines. She’ll wear a different uniform, khakis and Land's End polos, her brothers in navy plaid ties, their bleached-out, shaggy island hair cut to dress code standards. It is a good school—they will come home with backpacks full of projects and tasks, enriched by their full days and friendships and activities. If they speak any Spanish, it will be at home with me, if we remember to do our Utila nights, when I cut a circle out of a plastic bag and make tortillas by hand with Maseca corn flour I order off


In our other life, there will be no mango trees, no scampering geckoes on our bedroom walls, no apple bananas ripening on the back porch, no cangrejos en la casa, no leisurely morning snorkel, the reef in front of our island house as familiar to them as their childhood neighborhood, with sea fans and swim-through coral arches as landmarks. We’ll leave behind friends, memories, and our handprints in the cement of the bottle cap trash-to-treasure art project we are creating.


Trash to treasure bottle cap project

In our other life, if we want to see the ocean, we will have to play hooky while it is still warm enough, Indian Summer and drive hours through the state of New Jersey to play in the icy, darker water of the Atlantic. Maybe we will catch a glimpse of the Caribbean in the background when we Skype with our friends back on the island.


Today, as I walked Piper up the hillside stairs to her school, our feet gritty inside our flip flops, I wondered aloud if she would remember this crazy, Bohemian island life, when we go back to the States, or later, when she grows up.

It’s possible. My husband says his first memories are of walking to kindergarten with his mother in Buffalo’s nastiest weather, the wind off the lake stinging his cheeks and blowing her long brown hair. There is a story, family folklore, of the time he cried all the way to school, because she had accidentally zipped her prickly hairbrush inside his snowsuit.

So it is possible that these moments of our island life are tethering themselves to Piper’s long-term memory, that she’ll remember how she smiled shyly and called out a quiet ‘hola’ to the cheeky boys knocking down mangos around us while we stopped at the top of the hill and looked out at the sparkling sea, the wind tangling our hair, before we walked back down the high road to home. 

¡Ojala!, as they say in Utila. Would that it be so 

 * *** *


the view down the hill





Favorites on Friday--Facebook

It has been snowing on and off for the last three days, coating everything in layers of ice and white. I've been out in it, to shovel, to sled with the kids and play some ice hockey, plus one quick emergency run last night for more marshmallows and crickets for the toads and sallies. But for the most part, I've been home. I've been reading, writing articles and reviews. I've been baking everything from pork roast to GF pizzelles, and I've been teaching the kids--science experiments on crystals, math measuring and more poetry. As a bonus project, inspired by my friend Beth, we organized pounds and pounds of little plastic Legos by color. (Strangely satisfying!)

This is typical January and like the three riled-up feisty cats (not to mention kids!) there's some cabin fever brewing. Yesterday I drank too much steaming coffee and ended up washing all the downstairs walls. And then the baseboards. I only quit because I shredded all the magic erasers.

This is why today I am thankful for Facebook--the ability to be here and gather information, to be passive, cozy by the fire, but connected... To play online word games and catch up. To get news--from the local (why schools were closed today when the snow is under control) to the global (this alarming link on the cyber-reaction to the situation in Egypt.) I can commiserate with others who lost power but have iPhones, drool at photos as a friend's garden in Florida flourishes, and briefly acknowledge or ignore the birthday of a classmate I haven't thought of in years. 

Last weekend my father-in-law was perusing vacation real estate and asked me if I could move to a remote Caribbean island with a population of less than two hundred, where groceries are intermittent and mail unreliable. I thought of all the books I still have to write, of the way our homeschooling makes travel infinitely more possible and I said, "Yes!" But it was on two conditions: that my family comes with me, and we have reliable internet. I need my Facebook.