Writing prompt

December 10th, 2018

Today during a seminar at my Antioch MFA program–Novels and Memoirs in Verse for Young Readers, with Gayle Brandeis–we were given the writing prompt: “When Was the Last Time You Felt Free.” I wrote this:


A Time I Felt Free


We shut ourselves in the TV room

with the big screen and two

buckets of popcorn.

My little brother and me and

five other kids from the adoption group.


We don’t have to talk about


or our


Or dreams that come to us at night.


Let’s watch Fantastic Beasts, Black Panther, or Oceans 10.

Anything but LION,

where the boy goes back to India twenty-five years later

to find his mother.

The first one.

The one he lost.




December 9th, 2018

This week, I learned the terrible news that Zulma Subillaga Dubon was shot to death in Guatemala, along with her husband. Zulma was the in-country attorney for Mateo’s adoption in 2005. We originally met in 2003, when Zulma advised me during Olivia’s adoption—free of charge, just because she saw I needed help. Zulma stopped facilitating adoptions some months before the shut down in December 2007. She was a woman of great integrity.

Over the years, I’d lost touch with Zulma, to my now-eternal regret. I wish she’d seen the wonderful young man Mateo is becoming. I wish I’d told her again how much her kindness meant to me.

I’ll remember Zulma with tremendous fondness–her laugh and bright eyes, her fierce intelligence, her determination to get a job done. She was a beautiful, generous soul.

Zulma, may you rest in peace.



“Instant Family” love.

November 30th, 2018

To celebrate my finishing my MFA thesis project, I treated myself to the film, Instant Family.

I started crying about ten minutes in and basically never stopped.

Yep. Loved it.



Mamalita is 8

November 28th, 2018

My memoir, Mamalita, was published in November 2010, eight years ago this month. A lot has happened since then: My daughter, Olivia—whose adoption is the subject of Mamalita–is now a young woman of 16. Her brother, my son Mateo, is 14. Both my parents have died. Olivia’s older half-sister in Guatemala is the mother of two children. Olivia has attended four different schools. Mateo has transferred schools once.

I’ve met countless people touched by adoption, both in person and virtually, including (maybe) you if you’re reading this. “Adoption people” are my tribe, in a deep, lasting way I never expected. We speak the same language, a shorthand that feels sometimes to belong only to us. No explanations are necessary. There’s a comfort to that.

A few years after Mamalita was published, I began jotting down other ideas for stories. Adoption remained my obsession, but after penning a memoir and many essays, I realized some truths can only be expressed through fiction. One day, I opened a new Word document on my laptop and wrote: “Three trucks carried the soldiers up the dark mountain road to San Rolando. They rolled past corn and bean fields, past grazing pastures for cows and sheep, past rows of adobe houses with thatched roofs.”

The scene had come to me in a recurring dream, with details so vivid I felt I’d lived them.

In 18 days, I’ll graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch LA. My thesis project opens with the San Rolando scene and contains the first 140 pages of my novel. The full novel draft contains 320 pages or 90,500 words.

I can’t predict if the novel will ever be published. All I know is I wrote the best book I could. I’m happy to have finished.

Thank you for walking this journey with me. xoxo



Lake Atitlan tragedy

November 16th, 2018


A re-post written by my friend, Caroline Callison Tiffin, who knows Guatemala very well. On Wednesday, a boat sank on Lake Atitlan, with 17 people on board. Ten were rescued; three drowned, and four remain missing and are presumed dead. I’ll echo Caroline’s last sentence: “Enjoy the beautiful lake, but be safe!” From Caroline:

Adoptive families often ask about safety in traveling to Guatemala. I tell them it’s generally quite safe for tourists who use common sense and listen to the advice of their guide if they have one. I think most questions relate the the possibility of being a victim of crime but sometimes danger lurks in more unexpected situations: on Wednesday a tragedy occurred on Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist destination, when a boat traveling from Santiago Atitlan to Panajachel sank with 17 on board. Ten were rescued, 3 perished and 4 more were missing and presumed dead including a doctor from the Hospitalito in Santiago. He called colleagues to report the boat was going down but it is thought he may have drowned trying to save another before rescue teams could arrive.

The lake is not to be missed but many boats lack sufficient/adequate life preservers. The water is very cold and very deep. For my groups I have a local resident and friend charter all our lake excursions with a friend of his who runs safe boats. Although the law requires a life preserver for each passenger this is very often ignored. I understand there were way fewer than 17 on the boat that sank.

I suggest you book any lake excursions with a legitimate travel agency. Even then some pilots will operate their boats while intoxicated and on non-charters will grossly overload their boats to maximize profit. As early as noon on some days the afternoon Xocomil winds begin and on days like Wednesday when the wind is extra fierce an overloaded boat can capsize. If you suspect the pilot is impaired and or if you think the boat is overloaded, get off! Have everyone on your group put on a life preserver before leaving the dock – if there aren’t enough, get off! Enjoy the beautiful lake but be safe!



National Adoption Awareness Month

November 9th, 2018

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and today I’m thinking of ways adoption has affected me personally.

I was completely under-prepared to be an adoptive mother. Even if someone had tried to tell me what to expect—and no one did—I would not have understood adoption’s complexity until I was inside it, and inside it for many years.

Adoption is the most complicated relationship I’ve ever been involved in. And every year, as my children grow and move into the world more independently, it becomes more complicated.

I never imagined that the country of Guatemala—its history, politics, people—would inhabit my brain the way that it has. Maybe I should have anticipated this, but I didn’t.

At its root, adoption is loss. Loss is within, behind, beneath everything in adoption. It never goes away. Understanding that at a bone-deep level has helped me evolve in my role as mother to my children.

Adoption is also trust, hope, effort, and steadfastness.

Adoption is family, close and distant. Adoption is love.



Lit Crawl 2018 part 2

October 24th, 2018

Turns out there’s nothing better than sharing a stage with kindred souls. A photo of our five readers at San Francisco’s Lit Crawl on Saturday night and a link to the Lit Crawl Live in the Mission article.

With writers Sweta Chawla, Mindy Urlaub, Christina Julian, Dorothy O’Donnell, and me.



Guatemalan migration

October 23rd, 2018


To understand why thousands of people have marched out of Central America and headed North, you must understand what came before. The CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 led to the installation of a series of brutal dictators. Decades of violence followed in a 36-year conflict that ended in 1996. Some 200,000 civilians were killed, most of them indigenous people who lived in mountain villages. A tradition of violence, repression, and discrimination continues in Guatemala today.

If you have any connection to this beautiful, complicated country, please read at least the first several paragraphs of this excellent summary by Billy Perigo, written in 2016.



Lit Crawl 2018

October 19th, 2018

I’m excited to read at Lit Crawl with my Write On Mamas friends, this Saturday at 8 PM. I’m the first reader in our group, at Carousel Consignment on 2391 Mission Street, San Francisco.

Although excited might not be the right word: Anxious, nervous, apprehensive.

The antidote to stage fright is practice, I know. Which I do. And still.

The good news is that by tomorrow night, the reading will be behind me. I will have survived, as I always do.

In the scheme of things to be afraid of, reading out loud in front of people is not huge. It barely registers.

That’s what I tell myself.

Focus on the words and the meaning of the words. Aim to communicate.




Cooperative for Education heritage tour

October 5th, 2018

If you’re like me, you plan ahead. Cooperative for Education is offering a Heritage Tour to Guatemala in July 2019, designed specifically for adoptive families. My kids love experiencing Guatemala with families like ours: This is a great way to do it.

Here’s a link.