Sunday, December 31, 2023

High Kicks

This is my next puzzle. Isn't it a perfect New Year's Eve image? It was sent to me by a very dear friend. The fact that her fingers touched every piece in this box as she herself did the puzzle will make the process of putting it together myself that much more special—like a communion across miles. Thank you, my sister spirit. You knew I'd love this one.

And now it's the last day of the year and my whole family is either down with or emerging from Covid. My son seems to have had it the worst so far, but he just called and believes he's turned a corner, but now his love is coming down with it. "If she had to get sick I'm glad it was delayed," he said, "because she's been taking care and now at least I'm on the mend enough to take care of her." His bout was not mild. For three days he was miserable. He also had to go to Urgent Care to get a PCR test done, as the fire department requires it. This morning, when he went to headquarters to turn in the sick leave paperwork, he was in a line with about ten other firefighters, all of them also sick with Covid. 

A newspaper headline today read, "Everyone in New York City is sick with Covid." It's like that Omicron winter two years ago, except this strain, whatever it is, seems to kick your ass a bit harder. And it seems to rampage through any group of humans it comes in contact with, because what were the odds before this that my entire family would be down with Covid at the same time. My husband, who slept most of yesterday, keeps responding to "How are you feeling?" with a terse "I'm fine." He may well be, despite the bouts of coughing, because he's right now yelling at the refs for Arsenal-Fulham game on TV. I hope he never gets as sick as my son just described feeling.

The book. It's morphing. As we address the editor's comments, my subject and I, we happen across new stories worth telling, and so we are writing fresh pages and layering them into chapters, and I need to ensure the insertion of new material is effortless, and not janky. My subject goes back to work next week, and so our three week period of full engagement will necessarily end, but she's been a queen, giving me everything I need and then some to do my part. I worry the book is getting too long, too dense, but as my husband said, "She's had a big life, of course it will be dense." I need to make dense flow, however, make it accessible, not bogged down with too much detail, even though my subject has a very detailed mind.

Yesterday I caught myself rushing, trying to be the good student and get the thing done on a timeline that would be relieving to my subject, but the chapter I was in still felt unwieldy, and then I realized that I'm working with a lot of new material, first drafts of new pages, and I need to give them their due, weigh every sentence for purpose and pacing, make sure things hang together, and so I texted her that, to explain why I needed more time than I had promised, and she texted right back, "This makes perfect sense. And I'm grateful. Please take whatever time you need." Have I said yet that I adore her?

This does not in any way feel like New Year's Eve, and I'm just going with that. The year that is closing had a lot of hard moments, but I'm choosing not to tabulate them,  and to just lean into the impression that I was outrageously blessed as well. If we're lucky, the curtain on 2023 will find the man and me sound asleep. How's it going where you are? What are your plans for the turn of the year? 2024! Still sounds like science fiction to me.

Saturday, December 30, 2023


The man and I are both in bed, under two layers of comforters on a cold gray Saturday. It’s late afternoon, or maybe already evening, and we have Covid. I’m a couple of days ahead of him. He’s in the thick of it, while I’m emerging, the chills and the sore throat gone, but now my left knee has given up the ghost, and I’m lying here in my heavy wool socks trying to cajole that knee. My daughter had it first. Then my son spent an hour with me on Tuesday in between getting off from the night shift at the fire house and heading to get his wife from her parents’ home in New Jersey. I had no symptoms yet. But it turns out I was contagious. My girl was upstate with her in laws, after spending the past week with us. She had started feeling sick but wasn’t testing positive yet. A day later she let us know we’d all been exposed. “Took my whole family down,” she said ruefully. “Dang.” We fell like dominoes. First my daughter. Then me. Then my daughter’s partner, then my son, and after valiantly holding out, my husband, who had refused to isolate from me. My son’s wife seems to still be okay. My daughter’s mother in law too. May they both escape this thing. It’s what they call mild. But for two days of that, mild feels like a lie. And then in the stage I’m at now you feel quite normal (knee notwithstanding), and you’re doing stuff, working, interviewing, writing new pages, revising, editing, and then all of a sudden you’re slammed with exhaustion and need to crawl into bed again. So here we are. Covid new year. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Happy birthday to my beautiful niece 💕

My darling Leisa, this is your first birthday as a mom. Life will never be the same, and I think you already know that’s a magnificent thing. I love you, darling girl, always and forever. Enjoy Jamaica at Christmas for us winter birds here. 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Did you catch my girl on Hoda and Jenna?

My daughter was on The Today Show this morning, on a segment about accessorizing for the holidays. I was such a besotted mom, taking in her megawatt smile. It's her third time appearing on Hoda and Jenna for segments like this. Once she was a makeup model, the second time a hairstyle model, this time a holiday wear model. Hoda, in particular, always welcomes her warmly. I think she's charmed by the light my girl exudes. As are we all. Oh, and my girl got to keep those beautiful earrings!

Monday, December 18, 2023


My darling ex-sister-in-law Hilary sent that shell angel ornament for me with her brother and niece, who were visiting from Jamaica and were our house guests in New York this weekend. Hilary and her brothers, and my brother and I grew up together, a few houses apart on storied Paddington Terrace, for which this blog is named. Robert and I agreed on how happy we were that after my brother and his sister married and then divorced, Hilary found the love of her life in the form of a nuclear physicist on the other side of the world.

My son's wife and my daughter just might be soulmates of a sort. They get along so happily and effortlessly, and have done, right from the start. In fact, some years ago at a party, my daughter told her brother, "If you don't marry this girl, I will."

My girl took a weekend trip to a snowy place with the one she actually plans to marry this year. They decided to explore somewhere that felt completely unfamiliar to them, which is how they ended up in Colorado.

My choral group held its winter concert on Saturday, and it went off beautifully. In fact, it is probably the best our choir has ever sounded, especially our concluding rendition of The Hallelujah Chorus. That's me and one of my best buds Lisa behind me, as we were filing out after singing it. I do love making a joyful noise at rehearsals every week with my friend, and then going for soup and a good catch-up session afterward. 

My musician nephew's public profile is about to go wide. Watch this space.

Here's a photo of me at age 11, run through a photo repair app. The original is grainy, but I think I might prefer it. I look into the hopeful face of this girl and wonder, how did she see her life unfolding? Isn't it always a surprise, the loves we meet and the turns we had no idea we would take alongside them? I’ve now reached the age my parents were when I thought they were old. Now I understand that only the body ages, and we are all the bright hopeful ages we ever were inside. 

I get so few pictures of my son. This isn't a great one in terms of photo aesthetics, but it captures a moment of deep and thoughtful conversation between us, so I cherish it.

 The predicted storm this morning was a monsoon. From inside my house, the pattering sound was like soft drumming and light cymbals swishing. The winds and rain have tapered off now, which is good, because my daughter and her love will be flying home this afternoon. Traveling mercies to all of us here, whether we venture far afield or not this season.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Feeding the soul

As a Christmas gift I'm going to take my daughters, the one I birthed and the one my son married, to see Hell's Kitchen, a new musical currently at the Public Theater that is making its way to Broadway. Word is the show could get as big as Hamilton, so I thought we'd get in early, before tickets get sold out or priced out of reach. It's the story of Alicia Keys coming of age in New York's gritty, buzzy, artistic Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, and the soundtrack, including new songs written for the show, is supposed to be glorious. 

I'm actively trying to feed my flagging spirit, to shore up my creative soul, as the stage of the work I'm doing is rather stressful, all the more so because I feel a great responsibility to get this right. There are so many moving parts, so many different people's comments to reconcile, fact checking changes to input, deeper layers of the story to access, all without bogging down the pace of the narrative, and may I be worthy. I worked all weekend, but I did take a break on Saturday evening to climb under a cozy comforter and lose myself in the movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I absolutely loved. I'd heard it was an enchanting piece, a historical drama and love story set in Guernsey Island right after the German occupation during the Second World War. Yet I kept passing it by; the name of the film made me think it might be corny, which it was not. It's a writer's story, really, and I particularly enjoyed that aspect of it, the recognition that writers write to make sense of the world, to set things right inside themselves, and it seems to me that we are, all of us gathered in this virtual place, engaged in exactly that task.

Tomorrow is my niece's birthday. This one grew up in Jamaica and moved to New York City last summer, right out of college. She asked me a month ago if we could have a family get together for her birthday. I misunderstood at first, and thought she was inviting us to her Brooklyn apartment to celebrate. "No," she said, "I thought we could do it here, because this is where the family gathers." She has no idea how that touched me, especially as this niece is not overtly demonstrative; her cousins tease her that she has a world class RBF (resting bitch face); the comment doesn't offend her, it makes her laugh. Her default expression may be famously unimpressed, but her heart is tender, and full of family feeling, as we have all come to know. So tomorrow evening we will blow out candles and eat cake, and we will trim our little tabletop tree, and my man will make hot mulled apple cider (are "hot" and "mulled" redundant?). And as we sing for our newest New Yorker, I will take joy in knowing that, as her mother told me when last she visited, my niece is relishing the chance to be close to her family here. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

Winter light

We had another book team meeting yesterday morning, and I was greatly relieved afterward, as we collectively clarified those editorial notes that were giving me agita. I feel more able to move forward now, and accomplish the next draft of the thing. This stage is the second hardest of the entire book writing endeavor, the first being getting down a complete first draft to begin with. On we go.

I feel a bit fragile lately, possibly it's the seasonal blues, making me feel vulnerable, solitary, imagination running amok, sensitivities naked to the barest breath. The sky outside reflects my mood. Strictly speaking, nothing is desperately wrong in my little corner, not really, not when compared. Life is just life, and none of us makes it through this earth school unscathed by its lessons. Nothing to do but study hard and seek the light. A blessed Hanukkah and soon-to-be Christmas and Kwanzaa to those who celebrate.

The text message my daughter sent to me last night

Somewhere between then and now,
It went from "Mom, stop telling me what to do"
To "Mom, please tell me what to do."

Somewhere between then and now
It went from "Mom, you don't understand"
To "Mom, I don't understand."

Somewhere between then and now
It went from, "Mom, stop asking so many questions"
To "Mom, I have so many questions."

Somewhere between then and now
It went from "Mom, leave me alone"
To "Mom, never leave my side."

Somewhere between then and now
I realized the other half of my heart was always
the person who created it in the first place.


My daughter didn’t write this. She saw it somewhere and it made her think of us, with the result that these lovely sentences appeared in my text messages as I was drifting off. I did not toss and turn this night. I think I was smiling in my sleep.

Monday, December 4, 2023

A little rain

I wish I could describe what I’m feeling. I don’t quite have the words. The label I suppose is anxiety—fear of what’s waiting in the shadows to disturb your peace, disturbing your peace even before it arrives. You fear its arrival, which may never come, even as you live beneath the suspended sword, looking up, breath caught somewhere in the throat. You thrash and spin against the physicality of your dark thoughts, your worst case scenarios conjured just in case—in case of what? Do you imagine this conjuring will prepare you to weather that which you most fear? All emotion is either born of love or born of fear. Is it love when we fear for the ones we love, hold our breath at the thought of them having to go through life’s portion of pain, even though, as my mother used to say, quoting Longfellow, “into each life some rain must fall.” I worry for my children’s hearts. All of them. The ones I birthed and the ones they brought home to my heart. I worry for them. I don’t fear my own pain. I fear theirs. 

Painting by Naomi Takeda

Friday, December 1, 2023

Wrestling beautiful chaos

Our week of being thankful was topsy-turvy and wonderful, as was Baby Harper's baptism the Sunday before. She was curious about everything and everyone, didn't cry when the holy water was poured over her head (she does take infant swimming lessons with her mom in Dallas, so it probably wasn't a new sensation for her). And then our minister took her from her parents arms and said, "Now Harper is going to meet her people." As she walked with her around the church to be greeted and welcomed by everyone there, I swear you could almost see little Harper giving the royal wave, such was her demeanor and her beaming little face, our delightful little crowd pleaser, a natural born star. 

Harper was absolutely the highlight of the season for everyone. She adored being in the mix, went from arm to arm with no fuss, fixing each new person with her piercing curious stare before breaking into a smile that lit up all hearts. We had seventeen people on the feast day itself, eleven of them who were sleeping under our roof for the twelve days Harper was here with us. Several of my friends asked me to run down for them where everyone slept in our modest three-bedroom apartment. We explained that trundle beds and couches were pressed into use, with the back bedroom functioning much like a camp dorm. My daughter and her love left late each night to sleep in my mother's former studio across the courtyard, and they were back early each morning to rejoin the pile up of people and the chatter and the joy. I weathered my usual anxiety before the feast, but it started to abate once the food was on the table, and everyone was serving themselves a plate. After that, I did okay, dissipating my OCD by regularly cleaning up in the kitchen. More than once my niece looked up from nursing little Harper and said, "Are you wrestling chaos?" Yes, yes, I was.

My brother, here with us for the first time, was thrilled to have his four children and first grandchild all together under the same roof. He was the master of libations all week, our bar set-up more crowded with spirits than ever before. At one point my brother, who is high up in his lodge and veteran organizer of formal ceremonial events, advised my husband and me to come up with a checklist to make staging our annual feast a well-oiled affair. His oldest daughter, my niece Leisa, Harper's fiesty mama, backed him off at once. "Excuse me Daddy," she said, hand on hip, "but this is your first time here. Do you have any idea how many years Auntie Rosie and Uncle Rad have been doing this? They are not new to this, they are true to this, so put your advice back in your pocket." We all laughed heartily, including my brother, and I have to admit I loved Leisa rushing to defend us, and with such a poetic remark. I think my brother will be back next year, at least I hope so. He seemed to have a grand old time.

On Friday we binged watched all four of the Hunger Games movies in sequence, in between serving ourselves leftovers, in anticipation of our usual night en masse at the movies; this year the choice was the new Hunger Games prequel, The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes, which we all enjoyed. By Saturday our guests began leaving, starting with my nephew taking the bus back north to college, with the last four family members flying home to Dallas and Trinidad on Tuesday. The next day, the editor and the publisher on my current book project sent their editorial comments on the first draft manuscript. So I am once again immersed in the work. This stage always feels a little overwhelming to me, as I find I don't always agree with the margin notes, especially at first, but I know I have inflicted this anxious resistance on writers myself when I am wearing my editor hat, so I do settle myself down and weigh each and every comment in good faith, trying to see where the editor is coming from. Invariably, editors make a book better, and I know this. My work now is to do my part of the dance with faith in the process and a heart that remembers everyone on this project is operating from a place of love.

In no particular order, here is an album of my beloveds from the two weeks that were. Needless to say, magical Harper is heavily featured. 


Friday, November 17, 2023

Harper arrives today!

This little girl and her lovely parents are New York bound and she will be in my arms and sleep under my roof at the end of this day.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Candy colored morning on this side of the world

Candy colored trees outside my window greeted me this morning, the serenity of the scene so hard to reconcile with the children trembling with shock and unimaginable trauma on the other side of the world. Thanksgiving is around the corner. We will have houseguests, family members from Dallas, Trinidad, Jamaica, and upstate New York, who start arriving this Friday. Baby Harper will be baptized out of our home one week from today. My niece called her uncle a few months ago and asked if they could hold her baby girl’s naming ceremony at our little activist church. We’ll have a reception afterward in our apartment, a gathering of beloveds circling our precious new soul with love and communal protection and joy. It will be beautiful and I’ll finally get to hold that darling little girl. It occurs to me this is how all children should be treated—as the innocents they are, scared beings, the hope and promise of our world. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023


My husband is a pillar of St. Mary’s, a little activist Episcopal church in Harlem that yesterday kicked off its 200th anniversary celebration with a chamber music and choral concert at the world’s largest unfinished cathedral, St. John the Divine, in our very neighborhood. The musical selections featured our augmented choir performing original songs and traditional spirituals; the sound in that cavernous cathedral was beautiful and haunting. Next up were piano, harp, and violin pieces by two different women composers from the community; each had previously held the world premiere of her original composition at St. Mary’s. At the intermission, one of these composers was approached by a filmmaker wanting to hire her to score her newest film. That’s St.Mary’s for you, the little church that could. After the intermission we were treated to four exquisite pieces by the Harlem Chamber Ensemble, which again got its start at St.Mary’s. Our friends Lisa and Ozier joined us for the program, and they were blown away, both by the music and by St. Mary’s history of art and inclusive and intersectional social justice activism, as shared by those who performed. The program was billed as “200 Years of Praise and Protest: A Benefit Concert” and it was well attended and vastly enjoyed.

The thing that struck me so powerfully is that St. Mary’s has always been St. Mary’s. Right from the start it was about deeds, the practical work of securing a community, of giving people their dignity especially in times of need, of welcoming everyone regardless of faith, race, identity, or creed. St. Mary’s, which looks like a country church on a Harlem side street, was easy to underestimate, yet more than a century ago it became the first church in the city to stop charging worshipers pew fees, and fifty years ago it sponsored two of the three women from the New York diocese who were among the first women to be ordained as Episcopal priests. There’s a film about this that will be shown in the spring as part of the year long anniversary celebration, along with many other events. How many nights have I sat at our dining table working or doing a puzzle while my husband sat at the other end of the table on a Zoom call as chair of the 200th anniversary events committee. He's so low key, fostering team spirit almost effortlessly, because his ego isn't wrapped up in this at all. And this afternoon, my man and his little soul cluster at the church put on an amazing event, nothing ragtag about it at all. Afterward, he was deeply content. "That was a wonderful way to spend my birthday," he said, and it was.

Also at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine yesterday, there was a new art installation called Divine Pathways, created by fabric artist Anne Patterson. It consists of red, blue, and gold ribbons on which are written the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of hundreds of people from the surrounding neighborhood, each one offering a prayer reaching up to the Cathedral's vaulted ceiling. Prayers for peace. For community. Messages to mend the fabric of our world with ribbons upon ribbons of love.
The same filmmaker who wanted to hire one of the composers from yesterday's concert, approached me under those hanging prayer threads to ask me about my work. She said someone had told her I was a New York Times bestselling author (haha! that's actually true!) and she wanted to know if any of my books had ever been made into a film. None, I told her, and she then wanted to know was there was one story in particular that I thought was worthy of being told in film. And so I told her about Dr. Ellamae Simmons, the hidden figure who I've previously written about here, who made all kinds of history in her lifetime. When Ellamae was 97 years old, she hired me to write her memoir. It was a highlight experience of my life, and I wished the world could know her, too. The filmmaker was intrigued. She wanted my contact info, my website. She handed me her phone and asked me to type it in, but as I was doing that her husband tried to FaceTime her from Israel, where he is a journalist reporting on the tragedies unfolding in that part of our world. "I'll call him back," she said. "No, you should take it," I said, handing her back the phone. "You don't know what's going on." 

After she got off the call with him she came to find me again, and asked me to finish entering my contact info. She told me about her two nieces, who are in the Israeli army, who she says will soon be entering the tunnels in Gaza, and how worried she is for them. She said she feared that Israel's actions in Gaza will inflame antisemitism around the world. She told me one of her nieces had liberated a city, and her mother was so proud of her she sent their relatives in America a picture. "My niece was smiling," the woman said, "but I could see something different in her eyes, like a light had gone out, like she's seen things." 
I chose to just listen, aware that her family members were on the front lines, and how terrified I would be if that were my kin. I didn't try to tell her what I thought the government of Israel, and the government of the U.S. should be doing instead of carpet bombing Gaza. But after we took our leave of each other, I knew that filmmaker would never call me back, because she'd go to my website and see that I had written the memoir of a powerful and luminous Palestinian American warrior woman, and that would put me on the other side of the fence in her mind. Never mind that so many of us, maybe even most of us, actually want the same thing. Never mind that we're out here wearing out our shoe leather and posting on social media and calling our congresspeople and praying with our whole hearts for an end to genocide, for radical reconciliation, for sacred peace.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Love is a collective noun


We had another book team check in this morning, so there's a screenshot of me on Zoom, because it's tradition now that I record these meetings thus. Why do I want to record them? Because this has so far been one of the most creatively challenging and spiritually nourishing work experiences of my life, a true labor of love for all involved, despite the labor involved. So much more work to do on this project, all the steps to be accomplished, including the tedious ones, like formatting endnotes and checking facts and getting permissions for things, but when love infuses an endeavor, nothing feels quite as arduous as it otherwise might. Thank you God, or thank you Love—they’re one and the same to me. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Still somewhere

I made these garlic Parmesan cruffins—supposedly a cross between a croissant and a muffin. They were sinful and yummy. 

Today would have been my dad's one hundredth birthday. I am overwhelmed by that realization, which came to me just now as I did the math. I cannot speak to it at all, except to say he's been gone 27 years, and I miss him with my whole heart.

I spent another afternoon wedding dress shopping with my girl. What a joyful time that was. My beautiful daughter looked radiant in everything, but one garment in particular stole the show. 

Here is a poem a friend shared. I appreciate the people who post with fire in their bellies and searing truth in their words. They educate me. In this wrenching, fragile moment, we can’t look away.

Before I Was a Gazan

I was a boy
and my homework was missing,
paper with numbers on it,
stacked and lined,
I was looking for my piece of paper,
proud of this plus that, then multiplied,
not remembering if I had left it
on the table after showing to my uncle
or the shelf after combing my hair
but it was still somewhere
and I was going to find it and turn it in,
make my teacher happy,
make her say my name to the whole class,
before everything got subtracted
in a minute
even my uncle
even my teacher
even the best math student and his baby sister
who couldn't talk yet.
And now I would do anything
for a problem I could solve.

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952 


Friday, October 20, 2023

Gold all around

Walking Eagle (aka my talented nephew Brett) dropped new music today, a single of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," and I'm absolutely loving his voice and guitar riffs. You can hear him on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, or wherever you stream music. I was listening to him on repeat all morning. I'm just so proud of this humble artistic soul I get to call family. He may not have got a chair turn on The Voice, but a lot of people noticed him and now all sorts of opportunities are coming his way.

Meanwhile, outside my window, the leaves turned gold overnight, making a bright glowing backdrop for the flowers that my thoughtful future son-in-law brought for me last week. As usual when I have flowers in the house, I keep photographing them in the changing light. Aren't they beautiful? I'm keeping what's good and lovely in sight right now, being very intentional about that, because alongside the beauty, the world is hard and people are sad.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

She’s ready!

This little one will never be scared of heights! Daddy (6’5”) is besotted but puppy Porter isn’t quite so sure. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Book fair

It almost feels obscene that life goes on on the other side of the world from where wars are raging. But it does, and this past weekend, three other women and I organized a book fair for our neighbors who are authors, which was very well attended. It was kind of a lark how it started, one of our neighbors announced the publication of his photo book on the LGBTQ community, which he he had been working on since the 1970s, and I said, we should do a book fair, and somebody else said, great idea, let's meet to organize it. It ended up being four of us who pulled it together, and before you knew it we had 23 authors signed up to display and discuss their books, fiction, memoir, photography, history, science fiction, children's books YA stories, graphic novels, religious iconography, cookbooks, honestly every kind of book and subject area you might imagine. And I thought, well we can talk to each other if no one comes, but the community streamed through all afternoon, and everyone loved getting that taste of culture and seeing the accomplished work of people we say hello to in elevators and laundry rooms and courtyards week in week out. That's the four women organizers, congratulating ourselves at the end of the event. Everyone's already asking about next year.  Here's my friend's book that started it all. He's a wonderful photographer, and this is a life's work.