Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Moments

Today is the final day of IV infusions for my husband. He is at this moment giving himself the second to last treatment, with the final one tonight. Another step toward full recovery.

For his birthday on Saturday, our son came over. He arrived on Friday night, using his key and standing in the doorway yelling "Surprise!" He was smiling and pleased with himself, like a five year old who knows he is always a lovely surprise. He stayed until Sunday night, just hanging out with everyone, watching football with his dad, and intermittently disappearing into his old room to study. He has tests every week for the nine-month-long paramedic course, and if you fail more than two, you're out of the program. In a class that started out at 60, the attrition in two months has been severe, 12 people already gone. So far, our boy is doing well, grades in the 90s, and he's certainly learned how to study. It helps that all that medical stuff is endlessly fascinating to him, especially in an emergent setting. He might have been made for this.

On Saturday our daughter and her boyfriend came over to help celebrate, along with his mother, whose birthday was a couple days before my husband's, and his sister, who cooked and brought a raft of delights, a scrumptious full course meal. My man made his famous seafood gumbo, and I took care of the cake, ordering a chocolate one and a vanilla confetti one from Momofuku Milk Bar. The latter is lately my family's favorite kind of birthday cake, and the 6" version is small enough so that we aren't left eating cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following week. Which neither my husband nor I need. We sent the remainder of the chocolate cake home with the upstaters on Sunday morning, while our son finished the confetti cake for breakfast. We all had a lovely time, and the birthday man and the birthday woman judged the low key festivities perfect.

Then on Sunday night, my husband's uncle, his wife, and their son drove from New Jersey to have dinner with us. His uncle had triple bypass heart surgery twenty years ago, at the same age my husband is now, so the two of them exchanged war stories. It was fantastic seeing them. My husband's cousin, who was 13 years old the summer I met him (my husband was a tender 23) has grown into a fine and handsome family man. I could see my son in him, a couple decades down the road. It was amusing to be in a room with these four generations of men, all of them bald with beautifully shaped heads, all of them well over six feet tall. I felt grounded in an odd way by this visible reminder of the bond that is family. We missed you Bruce!

And now, back to the week. I was tossing with anxiety all last night. I barely slept, rehearsing an encounter with the insurance people this morning. There's no such thing as coasting along, breathing into a respite. As daybreak edged into the room I kept watching the clock, waiting for the hour when I could finally make the call. At 9:13 AM, I dialed the number on the registered letter that arrived at our door last evening. It's not yet resolved, but I will bird-dog it until it is. My husband is philosophical. They got it wrong, he says. We'll make it right. In the meantime I am sitting here with that peculiar hollowness in my chest, the shallow agitated breaths, adrenaline surging and surging.

But the weekend was really good. And tomorrow they will remove the PICC line from my husband's arm and he'll begin the next stage of his healing.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

Wacky week

In the midst of a wacky week, I completed two editing assignments and also made word count on the book! Well, almost. My contract says I am to deliver 75,000 words and I am at 74,314. My friend, who is a bestselling star in this book ghostwriting business, says I should add those 700 words and observe the contract to the letter. And so I shall. Still, for all intents, I have completed a full draft of the book, meeting my self-imposed deadline, and now (after adding those 700 words, and I know where I will insert them) I can print out the entire manuscript and start to edit. The best part. It's always easier to fix something that isn't working when you already have words on the page.

But to the wacky week: For starters, last Sunday, my daughter, my niece, my cousin and her husband and I auditioned for Family Feud! Here's what I posted on Facebook.

Ione and James Stiebel, by the way, are my grandparents, who raised nine children and instilled in them all a deep devotion to family. I'm forever grateful they did, because three generations later, the sense of belonging is as strong as ever. My husband is always amused when my cousins and I talk about "Stiebel women do this," or "Stiebel women are that," and none of us actually carries the name.

More delightful wackiness: My son's girlfriend S invited my daughter, my niece and me for a night of Writing and Wine, which was being hosted by the mother of one of S's childhood friends. We'd met the friend, Justin, at S's brother's wedding, where Justin and my daughter, seated next to one another, riffed on everything and laughed like old friends. The Writing and Wine event last Tuesday was held at this really happening hipster bar in the West Village. The teacher and I were the only people in the group out of their twenties. I felt uber cool to be part of that scene in an area of town I hardly ever get to anymore. It turned out the lovely teacher and I knew lots of people in common. She provided us with a title, a theme and a choice of three characters and three prompts. We put pen to paper in three 20 minute sessions of writing, sipping lots of wine to grease the flow of ideas. And let me tell you, the wine did its job. 

My daughter's story was set in Medieval times, and my niece wrote from the perspective of a little brother wolf. All the stories that people shared were funny and wonderful. I especially loved S's story of The Pumpkin Thief, a pumpkin who kidnapped other pumpkins to save them from ending up in Thanksgiving pie. I was too embarrassed to share my story, which sounded as if written by a lovelorn 13-year-old girl who'd read too many Mills & Boon romances, with a little spy espionage thrown in. The plot got crazier and crazier with each sip of wine. I particularly enjoyed the third writing session, when we had to partner with someone we hadn't known before the class, and recount our stories so the other person could borrow one of our characters to introduce into their own story. And vice versa. Of course the very best part was being out with my girls. When the teacher asked me how we were connected, I said, "They are all my daughters."

Okay, dear friends, I'm off to add those 700 words in the middle of my all but completed manuscript. I'll be back around to all your lovely blogs, soon. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Spirit of Justice

I went with my friends Leslie and Tania to see Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, interview the legendary Angela Davis, whose image, with her gigantic afro and raised fist, adorned my bedroom wall in the early seventies. The event, titled "Spirit of Justice," was held at Riverside Church, where it was moved at the last minute because so many more people than expected had registered to attend. The line to get in wrapped around the block on three sides, and I couldn't help feeling that the turnout was so large because of the times we're in.

One clue was that my daughter and one of her work friends, independently of me, had also registered, which told me the conversation between these two powerhouse women held appeal beyond the usual social justice, theological, academic, and liberal circles. My daughter and I sat together, and her friend's mother also came. Millennials were definitely in the house, many of them in mixed age groups with their parents, mentors, teachers. The generations were cross-pollinating ideas in a rather exhilarating way.

Angela Davis said so many things that simply blew my mind. Michelle Alexander played short video clips of Ms. Davis from the 1970s, when she was imprisoned for her revolutionary activities. It was astounding how applicable to this moment her observations from that time are now. I would love to share the gist of what she said, but I'm still processing everything; so many startling truths just swirling in my head.

It was incredibly helpful to be there last evening, because I am currently writing the final chapter of my book, or not my book, but the book I am writing for an activist who saw some tragedy in her life. So much of what was aired last night made me think more deeply about how to wrap up the story that has been entrusted to me. I'm trying to grab the tendrils of thought, to make the nuanced associations. I hope I will be able to.

"We have to act as if revolution is possible," Angela Davis said at one point, "and if we do that, the world will change." In the context of other things she said, I took this to mean we have to have faith in our connectedness to one another, and faith that whether or not we individually acknowledge that connectedness, it will save us.

In the same vein, she also observed: "Activism is a matter of faith," meaning we have to be willing to engage the struggle even if we are not assured of seeing our efforts bear fruit. We have to fight for the generation after us, she said, knowing that "new issues will always emerge, but every fight moves us forward, not just in one area, but in all."


It's been a week of appointments for the man, with me alongside. Cardiac rehab began; he had the intake and assessment on Tuesday and Friday. The ENT doctor on Wednesday said his vocal chords are about sixty percent back to full functioning, and should recover completely. The nerve was traumatized by the surgery; she explained that it actually wraps around the aortic valve (which I knew from consulting Dr. Google, which is why I was so worried). But after looking through a skinny black scope at the chords in action, she pronounced the nerve to be healing well. I'm happy to report my man's voice is indeed back, and while it's not yet as deep and resonant as before, it is getting stronger all the time. And now, in contrast to the previous prescription of vocal rest, doctor's orders are for him to speak as much he wants, so as to exercise the muscle. We also went out for lunch a couple of times this week, and enjoyed that, although my husband confessed that these outings show him that he still tires easily. Coming up: more appointments, and possibly the end of IV infusions in time for his birthday. He's in good spirits and doing well overall.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


We are going to the movies today. For my husband and me, this will be our first outing to a movie theater since July, when he got sick. Ever better, we are going with two dear friends, a couple who have just come through their own health ordeal. In fact, the husband of that pair went into surgery on the same morning, at the same hour, as my husband.

A few days before his own problems arose, our friend had volunteered to go with my very ill husband to his MRI appointment, as I had to get my niece and nephew, who were visiting from Jamaica, to the airport. I got a text from our friend the afternoon before the MRI saying he was being admitted to the hospital and was sorry he would not be able to accompany my man the next day. I told him to take care of himself and not to worry, we would figure things out. As it turned out the next day, my husband, too, was admitted to the hospital. They had very different diagnoses, but both required major surgery and extreme healing.

Since we all live near one another, both men post surgery happened to be assigned the same visiting nurse and the same physical therapist. Their wives, who like to sit together on a bench some evenings, have been in intense caretaker mode, and we've leaned on each other. We both understood that neither of our men wanted many visitors while they were at their most frail, and so the two men haven't seen each other since their hospital odysseys began. But this afternoon we will all walk to the movie theater together. I'm so grateful we have arrived at this place. I think we're even more closely bonded now than before.

Friday, October 13, 2017

If you had a fashion makeover and forgot to take pictures, did it really happen?

We had the makeover reveal yesterday, and it was big fun. But I forgot to take pictures. The only snap I took was in the cab on the way to the event. But even in this close up you can see I'm wearing lighter colors than are usual for me, a cream colored tank, a soft gray shawl jacket, and what you can't see, dark brown slacks of a more fitted silhouette with interesting seams and details. It strikes me that the overall tone of this photo is softer and bluer than is typical for me, and I think it's because of the gentler colors I was wearing. I'll be looking for another opportunity to wear this outfit soon, and I'll try to remember to take a full figure photo then. 


I've had these photos on my desktop for the longest while, thinking I might make posts about them. Today, I'm just going to throw them up here in no particular order, because what I really want is to hold the record of them on my blog.

That's my nephew, a wonderful musician, channelling Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley with a little Simon and Garfunkel thrown in. The result is his own divine sound. I look at this picture, taken in his college dorm room, and all I can think is this talented young man is a throwback to another decade. I was in college in the seventies, and it looked just like that. 

I love this picture of my son and his girlfriend at a friend's wedding. Don't they clean up nice? My son has attended four weddings already this year, four last year, and he already knows about three he will have to attend next year. All his friends, it seems, are getting hitched. He even officiated at the wedding of a couple he introduced, a college buddy and a work friend. They had already done a courthouse thing, so my son didn't need to be officially certified to perform the ceremony. I heard from his girlfriend that he did a fine job, and looked good up there, too.

Ever heard of butter coffee, also known as bulletproof coffee? My brother introduced me to it. It's made from your favorite brew (mine is Jamaican Blue Mountain beans, which my brother also brought me) mixed with coconut oil, butter, and vanilla extract all whipped up in a blender. The foam is incredible. Some people add stevia, some add cinnamon or nutmeg, some add a shot of heavy cream. I've noticed on the mornings I drink it, I head straight to my computer and start working away, distinctly more energized. It's rather high in calories, and since I'm counting those suckers at the moment, I don't eat a full breakfast when I have it. There is a lot of debate about whether the trend is healthy or not, but I confess my main reason for enjoying this new morning beverage is the smell of the virgin coconut oil. It takes me right back to my childhood and teenage years at Doctor's Cave Beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We used to rub on coconut oil as suntan lotion, which was an appalling idea. We were basically cooking ourselves out there on that lovely reflective white sand. But now the smell of coconut oil is like a moment of whiplash, time collapses, and suddenly I'm back there, with all the people who were part of that era, and the memory is delicious.

Nothing much else to report this morning, and now I need to get to work.

Happy Friday, my loves!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


The man is looking good. He went for a follow-up MRI of his spine today, and I went with him. After the procedure, on the way out of the hospital, we saw one of the surgeons who assisted with his heart surgery. He and some other people in scrubs were wheeling a post surgical patient in a massive hospital bed with a forest of blinking, beeping monitors and tubes and wires and IV poles attached, to the ICU. The doctor saw my husband in the hallway and said, "You're looking good! Are you back at the museum yet?" They were all fascinated by the fact that he is an ichthyologist. He was, for most of his medical team, the first ichthyologist they ever met. He just might be the only black ichthyologist in the United States, because he knows almost all the other ichthyologists, and yeah. My husband laughed and waved his cane at the surgeon, as if to indicate that he was not yet in fighting form, but getting there.

After they were out of sight he said, "Is that what I looked like after surgery?"

Yeah, buddy, exactly like that.

He is once again hard to keep up with when walking, his strides are so long, and his New York City default pace is kicking back in. All this is good. Last night, in bed, he remarked that he was not only getting better on the outside, he could feel his insides healing, too. Tonight, a box of limited vintage wines arrived, which he had ordered. Even though he can't drink any alcoholic beverage for another month or two, he had noticed that the stores were low and wanted to replenish them. These are things one only notices when more pressing concerns have abated. And then, he got down on one knee and restocked the wine fridge, bending his body to do so. With no pain. So good.

At his check-in with his main cardiologist yesterday, she adjusted his blood pressure meds slightly, and this evening, his numbers are perfect, according to the cheerfully talkative infusion nurse Daniel, who comes once a week to change the dressing of his PICC line and take his vitals. After Daniel left, we looked at each other and he said, "Is that it for the week? No more doctors, nurses, therapists, or medical tests?" That's it, I confirmed, the rest of the week is entirely yours. But you'll need to check your own blood pressure daily and walk, walk, walk as the cardiologist advised. I love his cardiologist. She's a feisty, bossy little woman, born on the same day (not year) as my husband. He listens to her. This is also good.

The twice daily IV infusions continue. He is now able to administer the medicine to himself, although it's easier when I do it. Still, he mostly performs the 10-step process by himself in the mornings and allows me to work, while I do the night shift. The infusion has to be slowly delivered over five minutes or more, so a timer is required, but the yellow liquid appears to be doing its job.

There will be other steps ahead—cardiac rehab, which cannot begin until six weeks after surgery, and further medical procedures, which must wait until three months post surgery. And then there's the appointment with the ENT doctor to check on his vocal chords. As soon as we made the appointment, his voice began showing signs of coming back. It's still raspy, but fuller and stronger, and maybe one day soon, I can finally exhale.

Thank you, everyone who sent prayers. Please don't stop. You are powerful, loving, and healing souls.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Note from the universe

 Can I give you some advice that you won't take the wrong way? 

How did I know you'd say yes?

Buy something special for yourself. Be proud. Flaunt your style. Love yourself. Daydream, wonder, and make a few mistakes. Stay up too late every so often and sleep in too long. Sometimes wake up crazy early to doodle or journal or go for a walk. Play loud music. Celebrate everything. And when no one is looking, as often as you can remember, kiss the back of each of your hands in quick succession.

Happy love affair, gorgeous...

The Universe


So how did Tut, who sends notes from the universe to my email every weekday morning, know that I am in the midst of getting a makeover this week? It's true. In my year-long weight loss wellness program, a personal shopper is coming to speak to the groups about dressing for the journey, including how to select clothes that compliment our body shapes, and basically, how to "be proud, flaunt your style, love yourself, daydream, wonder," and yes, make a few mistakes!

The personal shopper asked for volunteers, one man and one woman, to be made over during a session with him. The session would be complementary, but we'd purchase the garments we chose. The two volunteers would then wear their makeover clothes to the presentation where they would talk about what the experience had been like for them. So many people volunteered that the director of the program decided to use a random number generator to pick the winners. Guess who the randomness of the universe chose as one of the two volunteers! This lucky duck!

Two weeks ago when the email came in informing me that I had been selected, coincidentally while I was watching Project Runway, my heart skipped. I was thrilled and petrified! Oh God, I thought, he won't know what to do with me! This response was to be expected from the girl who growing up could never find anything in the store to fit her. All my clothes had to be hand sewn by a seamstress friend of my mother's. The only thing I hated more than clothes shopping was being turned 360 degrees and tape measured and the endless trips to check for fit. And my custom clothes never seemed as trendy and cool as the outfits my skinny friends wore.

Today, I avoid shopping in clothes stores altogether. I basically have multiple pairs of black pants and several black silk tanks, which is the uniform over which I don jackets, blouses, and floaty things in many colors, most of which I order online. Very often the over piece is also black. I live in New York City. Everybody wears black so I can get away with it. Still, I somehow knew that the only answer to the director's question about whether I wanted to accept the opportunity to be made over, was yes. So I screwed up my courage and jumped with both feet.

I had to fill out a style questionnaire, and then talk to the shopper by phone and then we made an appointment. I had looked him up online. He was an impossibly handsome and sleek man of African and Portuguese descent with gorgeous chestnut brown skin and impeccable style. Hoo boy, I thought, wait till he sees me. But he was absolutely lovely on the phone, and managed to put me somewhat at ease. Besides, I had already resolved that this was one of those "say yes and figure it out later" situations.

Our appointment was yesterday. It was fantastic! David (the personal shopper) is just the most beautiful soul, and remarkably, everything he picked out for me fit! I had feared it would be a disheartening session of, Oops, sorry, too small, but instead it was more like, Oh, I love this! And not only am I definitely going to have an ongoing relationship with him, I've already decided that my Christmas present to my daughter will be a session with him to get a fancy outfit for her sparkly fundraisers (I already told her). And when my family asks me what I want for Christmas,  maybe I'll simply tell them, "Go see David." He has already set aside pieces for me that we both loved, but including them in yesterday's purchase would have busted the budget I set for myself. 

I had decided I would buy one complete outfit, and I did that, plus an extra pair of pants in a color other than black. I can wear either pair of pants with the creamy colored shell and this awesome lightweight Eileen Fisher shawl jacket that I would never have looked at for myself, but which I think could become my new wear-everywhere piece. And the pants: As I picked them up I thought, Oh this will never fit me; the silhouette is way too narrow. And yet they kept going up, managing my abundance, and creating a much less bulky profile that my usual wear. I had no idea I could wear pants like those, but now I realize the secret is to select quality material. We were having so much fun we forgot to take an after picture, but perhaps I'll be brave enough to take one at the session on Thursday evening and share it here.

I'm tempted to say, this sort of thing never happens to me, but look, it happened! Thank you, universe!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Birthday boy and the Godfather

We got together yesterday to celebrate my son's birthday, which was on the fourth. How is it possible I am the mother of a 26 year old? The lovely party crew was my kids and their loves, plus my brother who happened to be passing through New York for the weekend. Even better, my son and his girlfriend, and my niece slept over from Friday night, and they woke my daughter up early to come and join them on Saturday, so it was a full day of celebrating. As always with this band, there were laughs and stories. Also, my husband's voice is showing the first unmistakable sign of returning. There is some bass in it now, less breath, more volume, just a tiny bit, despite the fact that he has not for a moment taken up the habit of silence. "Did Daddy always talk this much," my son asked me, laughing. "I don't remember him as being this talkative, but now that he's supposed to rest his voice, the dude won't shut up." "You don't remember him being talkative because we always hang on his stories," I said, and my daughter added, "Because they're funny as hell." Actually, she finds her dad's commentary even funnier in his Godfather voice. She was sorry when she learned he was supposed to rest his vocal chords, because she used to make him say things just to hear how it sounded with his rasp. As for me, I'm just happy with this new sign of continued healing.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The last of

Maggie May Ethridge wrote that she's been feeling a strange, unfriendly energy wrapping the planet like cellophane. It gonged in my spirit like a bell of truth. I woke this morning to a phone call from my cousin letting me know that our Aunt Jo died in Kingston last night. She was the last of my dad's five siblings, the oldest at age 97. I received the news with a sigh, and the thought that now she was free. In a way, she was lost to us a decade ago, the fog of Alzheimer's thick on her, with not even those momentary breakthroughs of recognition. "The last of the Mohicans," my cousin said. "For some reason that phrase is just circling in my mind."

My father's side of the family is not as dramatically demonstrative as my mother's side of the family. We don't efficiently pass news of literally everyone and everything in real time like my mother's side does, but we are close nevertheless. With my cousins on my dad's side, there is no doubt that help, should we need it, is a phone call away. My father's side specializes in swinging into action, unlike my mother's side, which one might say never really swings out of action.

I'll never forget when I was maybe 9 years old, the news came that my dad's youngest sister, who had migrated to Toronto, married a Canadian, and was raising her family there, fell upon a hard time. I won't go into details about it, but she had been committed to an institution against her will. As soon as my dad hung up the phone from the family friend who apprised him of this, he rallied his other siblings, all still living in Jamaica. It was late evening, but they all arrived at our home within the hour for a family meeting. The very next morning, my dad and his brother were on a plane to Toronto, where they succeeded in straightening things out and getting their baby sister's life back on an even keel. What stays with me was their absolute lack of hesitation.

And the year my dad was dying—he and my mom were living in St. Lucia then—my Aunt Jo flew to be by his side, and help my mother care for her brother. I traveled there from New York at one point to give blood for my father, as I was the best match in the family. My daughter was eleven months old, and very attached to me, and when I left her in Aunt Jo's care to go to the hospital with my mother, she cried inconsolably. She refused to be comforted, and even fiercely pushed Aunt Jo over as she stooped to try and hold her. This endeared her to Aunt Jo forever. She loved how spunky her grand niece was, and never tired of telling her that. My daughter, for her part, was horrified that she had pushed over her then 76-year-old aunt, even if she was not yet a year old.

Fly free, dear Aunt Jo. I imagine you shaking off that gray earthly mien, getting up out of your wheelchair, the light coming back on in your eyes. Say hi to everyone on that side of the cellophane for me. Tell them to blow us some love.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Happy birthday, son!

My son is 26 years old today! We won't see him till Saturday, as he is undertaking intensive training at the fire academy to become a fully certified paramedic, the next step on his journey. Nine months of super intense instruction with tests every week, plus clinical rotations, midterms and finals, and then the state boards. As he said, "This is my graduate school." We love you son, and we're so proud of you too, the way you just keep knocking down those pins, taking the next step, and then the next toward you dreams. I hope you have a wonderful day, even if you're studying five hours every night, and waking up at 4:30 am every morning. We'll celebrate on Saturday!

(I should note I didn't take that picture; his girlfriend did. That smile was for her camera. He usually scowls at my mine. Thank you S!)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017