Saturday, July 30, 2016

Four Generations

The problem with being away from this space so long is that it's impossible to catch up on everything. I'll just say that our family reunion at a place called Chillin in Jamaica was fantastic. The layout was perfect, 4-bedroom villas and 2-bedroom apartments, all with lovely breeze swept porches, arranged around a central grassy courtyard and pool area, with the beach steps away.

Each villa and apartment had a chef/housekeeper assigned to it, who shopped for and cooked whatever you desired for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our chef, Sandra, was amazing. The first morning, she helped us come up with a menu of meals for our time there. We all wanted the Jamaican dishes we were raised on, so that breakfast was usually ackee and saltfish or codfish fritters, with festival or johnny cakes or basis, breadfruit, plantains, jerk bacon, scrambled eggs (for my niece's bf who doesn't have the taste for ackee), and always a huge platter of sliced local fruit including mangoes, watermelon, bananas, cantaloupe, honey dew melon, oti-eati apple (correct name is otaheiti, which I didn't know till I just looked up how to spell this delectable fruit I grew up with) and paw paw. Lunch might be jerk chicken and rice and peace and salad, or oxtail and plantain and yam, and, well, you get the picture. Then the chefs for each unit would cook some part of the evening meal, which was served buffet-style outdoors near the pool, with tables set out on the grass, all of us gathering from our day's activities to eat a meal in communion with one another.

After dinner there were domino and kalooki games around the pool, or in one of the living rooms with good fans. And there was night swimming too. All week we wandered in an out of each other's villas, played in the pool, or just reclined on each others porches talking, being, loving each other and loving being part of this family. The Stiebels. That was my mom's maiden name, passed down from the German Jew who came to Jamaica and married a woman of African descent several generations back, the given name of the nine siblings, only one of whom made it to our family reunion this year. The other two sisters who are still alive are too weak to travel, but Aunt Grace was there, a week before turning 90, radiant.

Of my mother's generation, in addition to Aunt Grace, my Aunt Ruth (who married my mom's brother Donald) and Uncle Eddie (a first cousin of the nine) also came. The rest of those gathered were their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the youngest, adorable Leo, only eight months old. And this wasn't even the whole crew. Only about half our number were able to make it, the rest either too broke, or too stringently employed or too pregnant to be there that particular week. Yes, there will be three more babies born in our family this year, all three of them great grandchildren of Aunt Grace; three of her eight granddaughters are currently with child, promising yet another generation of closely bonded cousins.

During the days, we all went our different ways, some families joining together for outings, others heading off solo, still others staying put at Chillin, liming out by the pool or dozing in hammocks on porches. I could really go on and on about the week that was, but maybe I'll just put up an album of photos instead, and let that tell the story. If you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you've already seen a lot of these photos, but as I also want to have the record here. And let me say, if anyone's looking for a vacation venue where each family has their own lovely unit (with air-conditioned bedrooms) yet ease of mingling and being together, not to mention world class chefs who are lovely yet somehow manage to be so unobtrusive, look no further than Chillin at Old Fort Bay just outside of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It's a place of simple comforts and utter charm.

In a few days, I might have the wherewithal to whittle down the sheer number of pictures here, but for now, I can't choose. All the moments were precious. I want to hold them all.

Leaving New York

Doctor's Cave, Montego Bay, the beach of my childhood

My chill 70s dude nephew and me

Afternoon chillin' at Chillin

Abbe and Notta in the pool

The villas were lovely

My brother brought my mom's picture

Berry brown girl

Rare full length of moi

Beach towels drying

Uncle Eddie made it into the pool

Aunt Ruth sipping pumpkin soup

They played as babies. When did they get so grown?

The hammock was in constant use

Dear friends from Florida visited us

I still see their baby faces behind their grown-ness

Setting up for dinner

Aunt Ruth and her firstborn, on his birthday

Sister cousins

Brother cousins

Blue Hole, my family's down there somewhere

My cousin and his heart-stealing son Leo

Kalooki masters

Me and my girls

My cousin who's really my sister

Uncle Jeff was everyone's favorite pool toy

Birthday boy in the whirlpool

Saturday eve, everyone wore reunion t-shirts

The little one wiped out early

Oldest (Grace, 90) and youngest (Leo, 8 months)

The General

I spent many charmed hours chatting with Grace

The bottle challenge. Don't ask.

Daydream believers

The little one kept yelling, "Throw me high!"

My daughter and "Little Beyonce"

This was only half of the group

Our villa, plus two more cousins

Back in Kingston, we gathered to place Mom's ashes

Mom's ashes are finally with my dad's, as she wished

Aunt Grace and my cousin Brian

Mo and Leisa

Pepper shrimp at Hellshire Beach

Reading by the pool in Kingston

My man and the sea

And as for the honeymoon photo of us in Dunn's River Falls that my darling husband wanted us to recreate, he decided we could do a perfectly lovely job of it using photoshop. I'm cool with that.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


I'll be away for a couple of weeks, chillin' with family in some cottages on a beach in Jamaica. My son won't be with us, as he'll be in New York getting administratively enrolled in the best pension plan in the city, and being fitted for his FDNY EMT uniform and starting his new gig with the fire department. The rest of us, my husband, daughter, niece, and niece's bf, along with my brother and his son, plus assorted other cousins, nieces, nephews and significant others, and our beloved Aunt Grace, who will be 90 in August, will be together in this place. I kind of like the vibe. I'm starting to get a little excited. Hammocks!

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I'm traveling next week. Could that be why I feel so churned up. I don't know what to do with myself. I am between jobs, but there are two sure assignments in my future, so I should not be anxious about that. I should be relaxing into the freedom of this moment, relishing it. Instead, I am wound tight as a fist, the fist locked around my heart, and I don't know what to do about it.

I'm traveling next week to a family reunion in Jamaica, all of us in sweet cottages on the beach, and I shall have to put on a bathing suit, which fills me with dread, no, to be more precise, with loathing. How can I be so at war with the body I am in? So unloving. My husband wants to climb Dunn's River Falls with me, to recreate a photograph we took on our honeymoon thirty years ago, the one about which our daughter said, "Daddy, you look so happy." He does not truly understand that my left leg is little more than window dressing, a prop that requires careful positioning at all times, with no cartilage in the hip, bone on bone, nothing connected, unable to support me, and so I do everything leading with my right leg, and try to pretend away the pain in my left. I don't think I will be able to climb the falls, and—the feeling pervading my week—I feel like a failure because of it. He has this romantic idea, and I love that he does, but it might not fit the reality of who I am now, which makes me feel like a killjoy, an encumbrance, and kind of lost.

I cannot walk without pain. Climbing stairs is excruciating. There, I said it.

I'm kind of fucked, really.

Why? Because I'm too fat for a hip replacement, and will need to lose about a hundred pounds to be assured of success. And don't hip replacements only last fifteen years or so? Does that mean I'd need another one down the road? Never mind that I am actually terrified of having a hip replacement because my cousin, who was the age I am now, died during his recovery from the same operation four years ago. Just slumped down off the chair in his apartment alone, and stopped breathing. A blood clot, an embolism, something happened. They found him the next day.

My own left hip suddenly jarred with pain at his funeral. I'd been running around all morning, moving tables and chairs into position for the repast, and at a certain point I took a step and crumpled with pain, the hip suddenly locked. That must have been the afternoon the last piece of cartilage wore through. But I was in denial. I limped along. At the time, I was primary caregiver for my bedridden 92-year-old aunt and also for my 89-year-old mother, whose health and mobility were precipitously declining. It was months before I actually went to a doctor. And now here we are.

My doctor told me last year that my left hip is already at end stage, and so won't get worse. That landed for me like a bit of good news. Okay, I thought, so this is what we're dealing with. Okay. It was a shard of certainty.

So now you know why I write this blog under a pseudonym. I'm an over sharer in the worst way, because I need a place to work out what I'm feeling, to look at it cold, and this space allows me to do that. Even just writing this, which might sound like a self-pitying whine, has settled me a bit, helped the churning inside me to gentle itself down.

Thanks for letting me share.

Monday, July 11, 2016

I want

Some days I love my house. Some days I look around my house and feel like a failure. I want one of those HGTV houses with pristine walls (my house hasn't been fully painted in a decade; handprints are everywhere) and artfully unmatched furniture pieces and a designer kitchen with cupboard doors that are not forever coming off their hinges.

I want a gleaming finish on hardwood floors, not these scuffed, battered boards underfoot. I want a farmhouse dining table to replace the rickety one by the window that my father and husband screwed together while I held my now 24-year-old firstborn as a babe in arms, and chairs sturdy enough for people to actually sit and dine comfortably, rather than balancing dinner plates on their knees while perched on lumpy matching brown couches in front of the TV.

I want storage space in this small New York City apartment, so that everything lined up on my counter or on chairs in the corner or just out of the way on the floor can have a place to live. I want.  It all feels too much, this wanting, this feeling that somehow other people are able to manage these things while I just sit here feeling overwhelmed. Not knowing where or how to start. Feeling that even if I started my choices would be all wrong. Wishing one of the Property Brothers would just come in here and accomplish this home makeover feat for me. So many emotions. So much self-judgment clouding the fact that everything I truly need, I already have.

Here's what I really want. My children to be happy. But sometimes they are not. This is called life.

And so I obsess on the things that theoretically are within my control—the state of the house—to distract myself from the things I cannot control—the state of our hearts, the reach of our dreams, the proportion of light and shadow in our days.

Hello Monday.

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