The ruins at Iximche 2015

August 27th, 2015

On the way to Lake Atitlan, our group of 12 stopped to visit the ruins of Iximche, in a field on the outskirts of Tecpan. The ruins are not nearly as spectacular as the ones at Tikal–which I visited in 2003–yet the place is infused with a compelling grandeur. The air itself feels sacred, maybe because at the very end of the ruins is a ceremonial space still used by practicing Mayan shamans. The morning we were there, we saw three different groups gathered around fires in prayer, performing rituals that incorporated flowers, chocolate, honey, herbs, rice, corn, and alcohol.

While the 6 kids in our group explored the ruins by climbing and jumping, we adults hired an English-speaking guide. The guide informed us that Iximche was founded around 1470 by the Kakchikel Maya after they broke with the larger, dominant group, the K’iche. Soon after, Spanish conquistadors arrived and in a move known as “divide and conquer,” allied themselves with the Kakchikel, vanquishing the K’iche and other native, highland peoples. The introduction of smallpox from Europe contributed to the conquistadors’ success by decimating thousands. The Spanish declared Iximche the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, but the town’s supremacy was short-lived. By 1524, the Kakchikel abandoned their one-time home after the Spanish demanded of their former allies excessive tariffs.

During the tour, our guide  pointed out the ball court and the temples to the Sun and the Moon. He also told us the reason why pyramid steps seem, to our modern feet, unnaturally narrow: The ancient Maya never turned their backs to the sun. One way they kept proper orientation was by climbing steps sideways.

The admission fee to Iximche is 50Q for adults, about $6. The restrooms are clean; bring your own snacks and drinking water.  At the ruins’ entrance, a quote from the Kakchikel Chronicles reads: “Do not forget the stories of our elders, of our forefathers.”

A trip to Iximche will help you remember.

Photo credit: Peg Beasley







Listen To Your Mother 2015

August 20th, 2015

In 2014, I participated in the San Francisco performance of Listen to Your Mother, reading “My Mother the Rockette.”

This past May, I sat in the audience of the Brava Theater, spellbound, and listened this year’s cast tell their stories. Every vignette was terrific, but one–”She Was All I Ever Wanted” by Regina Louise–left me sobbing. The piece is about growing up in foster care, transracial relationships, the meaning of “mother.” Three months later, I’m still thinking about it. xoxo




Moguate 2015

August 9th, 2015

When we decided to adopt from Guatemala in 2002, I never imagined how profoundly adoption and the country of Guatemala would impact every facet of my family’s lives. Case in point: Two weeks ago, we flew home from Guatemala and drove to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri for the annual gathering of adoptive families with children born in Guatemala, known as MOGUATE. The name blends the abbreviation for Missouri, the home state of founder Cindy Swatek, and the shorthand version of the country we love.

This year was the ninth annual gathering, with more than 100 people attending. The format is casual, with lots of pool time and informal conversation about parenting, family, and travel to Guatemala. Special activities were planned for the teens, who traveled in a happy pack. This year, Dorothy Kilmer gave a fascinating final presentation on the traditions of Quinceanera (which included a crowning) and ALDEA board member Sonya Fultz spoke about the important work ALDEA does to deliver clean water to villages in Guatemala. All proceeds from the raffles and silent auction were donated to ALDEA–nearly $10,000.

My family attended MOGUATE the first time in 2011, when Susan Carter invited me to discuss our adoption story, Mamalita. We returned this year because our kids love being with other adoptive families. As I heard an older teen say, “It’s one place you don’t have to explain anything.” Maybe you can relate.

If you live anywhere near Missouri, check out MOGUATE’s FB page and website for next summer’s confab. And thank you to Cindy and Matt Swatek for creating a place of support for our adoption community. xo

Photo credit: Mark Acker



Antigua nostalgia

July 31st, 2015

During my trip to Guatemala with Olivia this summer, I felt very nostalgic for our earliest days together, when I moved to Antigua and we lived in a small house to wait for her adoption paperwork to be finalized. We were first getting to know each other then, and many of those days weren’t easy.

I remembered the hours we passed playing at Antigua’s Mickey D’s, wandering through the markets, and admiring the artwork painted on the sides of local buses. I also remembered the care shown to Olivia by our dear Guatemalan friend Yoly, who babysat during the afternoon hours I studied Spanish.

As I watched Olivia navigate her life in Guatemala this June–confident, happy, independent–I thought, How far we have come. ~















Choco Museo

July 17th, 2015

This week, we went to the Choco Museo on Antigua’s Fourth Calle to watch a demonstration on chocolate, from cocao bean to market shelf. Our English-speaking guide, Pablo, captivated our group of six Guatemalan-born kids with hands-on activities and tales of the bean. After two hours, we each took home the fruits of our labor–a personal cache of artisan chocolate. Beyond. Beyond! ~




The Bunk Bed Project

July 14th, 2015

A few years ago, American adoptive mom Tamara Hillstrom, founder of the Guatemalan orphanage El Amor de Patricia, visited a farm close to the El Amor orphanage, where she noticed that the farm’s caretakers slept on straw mats in barn stalls designed for animals. This wasn’t the first time Hillstrom had observed families in such dire circumstances: In her work for El Amor, she had visited homes where many poor parents and children slept on twigs or pallets or cinder blocks, or on nothing at all. “How can anyone function after a night like that?” Hillstrom wondered. “Doesn’t everyone deserve a comfortable sleep?”

Thus, the Bunk Bed Project was born. The concept is simple: raise funds from the American adoption community and other interested donors, use the funds to build bunk beds in Guatemala, and deliver the beds to families in need. Since the project’s inception, more than 1,200 bunk beds have been installed throughout Guatemala.

Yesterday, Mateo and I helped deliver and build bunk beds for two families.  The beds we installed, like every bunk built through the Project, are given in memory of Gabby Lewis, a child adopted from Guatemala who died too young.

I rarely ever promote nonprofit organizations, but if you’re looking for a service opportunity especially meaningful for children, consider the Bunk Bed Project. Sweet dreams. ~




The road to Comalapa

July 5th, 2015

The road into Comalapa is lined with murals on both sides. If you can, get out of whatever vehicle you are driving in, and walk the length of the pictures to view them from start to finish. The images depict the history of the Mayan people of Guatemala: from the bucolic pre-Conquest days, to the arrival of the Spanish and the subjugation of the native peoples, to the 36-year armed conflict that ended with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. The final paintings show the future of the new Guatemala: dreaming of education and opportunity and envisioning clean, running water straight from the spigot.

The murals bring Guatemala’s complicated and fascinating history alive. I was overwhelmed by the pictures’ impact and power.



Birth family reunion stories on the radio

July 2nd, 2015

A friend sent me this link to a PRI radio show by adoptive mom Laurie Stern about the growing practice of searching for birth mothers in Guatemala:  “For adopted Guatemalans, a searcher will look for birth moms. But sometimes the reunions are fraught.”

I listened with my two kids, ages 13 and 10, and they sat still throughout. The story that affected them most was that of “Marta,” who was relinquished at 6 and adopted at 8, and who reunited with her birth mother at 15. During the reunion lunch, Marta didn’t want to sit next to her birth mother, and her birth mother didn’t reach out to speak to Marta. My children felt the birth mother should have reached out to Marta, simply because she is the adult, but they understood both sides. “Nobody knows what to do,” said one. It’s hard to imagine a more emotional scene.

I admire the maturity shown by Laurie Stern’s son, who seems at peace with himself and his identity, because he understands where he comes from, and has made sense of his history.

I recommend listening to this PRI piece because it does not make reunion seem simple. And trust me, it isn’t.



Santiago Atitlan

July 1st, 2015

We took a boat to Santiago Atitlan with adoptive family friends who had never been there. Friday is market day, and the town was filled with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meats, and dried fish. The design of Santiago’s huipil features embroidered birds, and my friend, an ardent bird-watcher, bought one. Some men in the town continue to wear traje, which you can see in one of the pictures.

We also visited the church, where Oklahoma missionary Father Stan Rother was pastor for many years before he was shot in the head and killed in July 1981 during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Plaques explaining the history of the conflict and its impact on Santiago and other villages line the church’s back walls.

Father Rother’s heart and blood are buried in a crypt and a large photo shows his image. Notice the word “Aplas” on the monument. That’s the name for “Francis” in the local dialect, Tzutujil. The people of Santiago had no word for Stanley so they called Father Rother  “Padre Aplas.”



Father Stan Rother

June 26th, 2015

I’m writing this as a person who loves Guatemala, and as a practicing Catholic who has been praying for the canonization of Father Stan Rother, an Oklahoma missionary priest who was shot in the head and killed at his parish home in Santiago Atitlan in July 1981, during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that a commission in Rome has declared Rother a martyr, and efforts to canonize him a saint will go before a panel of 15 bishops and archbishops, in six months.

I read the news this morning on my Google alert, sitting in a chair in a village only a few miles away from Santiago Atitlan, where Father Rother was assassinated. I have visited his Santiago church, where his heart and blood are buried, and witnessed the deep and active faith of the parishioners there.

Father Stan Rother: American Martyr in Guatemala, written by John Rosengren, is a 2006 account of the events surrounding Rother’s death, the best I have found. Read it if you are interested in learning more about this good man.