Hard Red Spring by Kelly Kerney

May 3rd, 2016

Kelly Kerney’s novel Hard Red Spring tells the history of modern Guatemala through the lives of four Americans whose stories are linked by the book’s inciting incident: the mysterious disappearance in 1902 of an ex-pat little girl.

The book is divided into four time periods critical to Guatemala’s evolution: 1902, 1954, 1983, and 1999. During each of the four periods, a story is told through a different point of view: Evie, the young ex-pat girl who disappears; Dorie, the wife of the American ambassador to Guatemala during the presidency of Jacobo Arbenz and reign of United Fruit; Lenore, the wife of an evangelical pastor sent to Guatemala to serve in a model village under Efrain Rios Montt; and Jean, the adoptive mother who returns to Guatemala for a Roots Tour with her teenage daughter, Maya.

Each of these characters is an outsider in Guatemala, and much of the book’s drama revolves around the characters’ struggles to understand and navigate their outsider status. No clear villains or heroes emerge: Everyone is flawed, and in many ways, everyone is guilty—of selfishness, of pride, of good intentions gone awry–or if not guilty, not innocent, either.

I turned every page of Hard Red Spring in awe of Kelly Kerney’s ability to seamlessly weave the history of Guatemala through the epic narrative. The plot of each of the four sections is gripping and unexpected—perhaps because the history of Guatemala is both those things–and the characters are unique and memorable. At the same time, Hard Red Spring was, for me, a difficult read. Not because of the novel’s density—although at times it was dense—but because of the underlying message: That as a citizen of the United States, I am forever an interloper to Guatemala, regardless of how fervently I wish to belong.

Despite my discomfort, I wholly recommend Hard Red Spring. It’s  a monumental and important novel that affected how I think, and won’t soon forget.



The Address by Ken Burns

April 27th, 2016

Totally off the subject of Guatemala or adoption: The Gettysburg Address. Mateo and I are obsessed with it. Over Spring break, we traveled to Gettysburg to visit the epic battlefield and stood on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered his powerful speech about freedom and sacrifice.

Back home at our local library, we found a Ken Burns documentary about a boys’ school in Vermont that requires students to memorize Lincoln’s immortal words for an annual elocution contest at year’s end. The students, each with learning differences, work hard to master the moving and challenging text.

Mateo and I loved the Ken Burns’ movie, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in history, Lincoln, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, or none or all of those things. We also recommend The Address to anyone who parents a child with learning differences, or not, or for anyone interested in education. In short, we hope everyone watches this unique story and is inspired.

Here’s the description from PBS: THE ADDRESS, a 90-minute feature length documentary by Ken Burns, aired on PBS in the spring of 2014. The film tells the story of a tiny school in Putney Vermont, the Greenwood School, where each year the students are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address.  In its exploration of the Greenwood School, the film also unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.

A link to the trailer: The Address, by Ken Burns



Velvet B’s blog

April 19th, 2016

A good resource for anyone considering searching for birth family is Velvet B’s blog “Familias de Corazon.” Velvet is known to many in our community as half of the search team, V and F. Together, F and V have conducted searches in Guatemala since 2007, facilitating reunions of some 200 children with their first mothers.

Velvet’s posts include “Five Things to Think About Before Searching,” “How to Search for Guatemalan Birth Siblings,” “What to Say (and Not) in Your Birth Mother Letter,” and “How to Make a Birth Family Meeting Go Smoothly.” Velvet lists her contact info so you can email her directly with specific questions.

I’ve linked here to Velvet’s interview with an adoptive mom who completed a successful search for her 17-year-old daughter’s birth mother. The girl’s reaction to the news that her mother has been found rings true to me. The interview concludes in a second part, which you can find by scrolling around the website.

As our children become teens and adults, search and reunion are subjects of increasing importance. If you’ve read this far, you probably know how I feel: Grateful we were able to connect with families of both our children, and can maintain contact and visit.

Wherever you are in the process–and “ambivalent” or “scared” count as categories–Velvet’s blog may provide some insight.



Inter-country adoption lowest since 1981

March 31st, 2016

Inter-country adoptions by US citizens fell 12% last year, to the lowest level since 1981, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Miriam Jordan, based on US State Department statistics. Maybe because I read about adoption every day, this news doesn’t surprise me. So I asked my 13-year-old daughter Olivia what she thought about the statistic. Her answer: “Every child should be given a chance to have a family.”

The subject is complicated, but I appreciate Olivia’s reaction. Here’s the WSJ article link.



TLC “Lost and Found”

March 28th, 2016

Spring Break this week for Olivia and Mateo and we’re on the East coast visiting historical sites. Because every hotel has cable TV, the kids were thrilled to catch up on Cutthroat Kitchen, Extreme Weight Loss, and Cupcake Wars, programs they miss in our cable-less home. That is, until they discovered the new TLC show about adoptive families: “Lost and Found: Reunited.”

Now it’s back-to-back Lost and Found episodes, one story melting into another–of mothers and their sons and daughters searching and hoping and meeting. Of filling in blanks and seeing oneself reflected, of finally getting answers. Olivia and Mateo are fascinated, mesmerized, transfixed. Glued to the screen.

I’ve written about Lost and Found before, but now that I’ve seen the show myself, I am re-recommending. If the episodes do nothing else, they will generate dialogue. Dialogue is good. It’s a beginning. ~



Antigua Semana Santa

March 24th, 2016

I found photos from a 2013 trip with Olivia to Antigua during Semana Santa. It was a memorable visit—the processions, the solemn fervor (a balance hard to achieve, but somehow pervasive), the crowds, the carpets. All made better because many other adoptive families stayed at the same hotel and we shared the experience. (We were the lunatics up and out at 5 AM to watch artisans construct their rugs. )

The pix here are from Holy Thursday.






March 21st, 2016

If you’ve been to Guatemala, chances are you’ve eaten Tortrix–the savory, heavily salted corn chips with a hint of lime that are sold in tiendas and markets everywhere. Ordinarily, I’m not a big snack eater, but Tortrix are my weakness. In Guatemala, a bag always is stashed in my backpack, ready to be dug into whenever hunger strikes.

Of course, Tortrix and I have a history. Back in 2002, when Tim and I visited Olivia in Guatemala City at the Camino Real, we often did a run to a nearby market for stuff we needed or forgot. And there, hanging by the cash register, calling to me, was the display of Tortrix. The iridescent green bag. The bold red logo. The promise of salt and flavor. I was hooked.

Last week, in the US, I visited my parents in San Diego. They’re in an assisted living facility now, 87 years old and as comfortable as one can be at 87 in assisted living. The visits are bittersweet, as my husband and kids understand. Anyway, while I was away, Tim took the kids to a restaurant he discovered, owned by a family from El Salvador. And hanging by the cash register was the familiar display of Tortrix.

It doesn’t take much to make this girl happy. xo





DNA and adoption

March 20th, 2016

We’ve met Olivia’s birth mother and other family members, who identify as K’iche’ Maya, and Olivia feels secure in her Maya identity. But recently, after studying DNA in 7th grade Science, Olivia said she’d like to take a home DNA test such as 23andMe to learn more about her genetic heritage. This NY Times article therefore resonated: Marie Tae McDermott, adopted from Korea at 6 months old, took a DNA test and writes about the experience in Meeting My DNA.



Book club

March 14th, 2016

I’m grateful to live in an area with an active adoptive parent community. Yesterday, Olivia and I drove an hour for “book club”–no matter how many times I drive to my friend Marie’s house, I always get lost–and met with moms and kids we’ve known for years. (Shout out to Marie’s husband who watched the kids while the moms talked. Thank you, Ralph!)

The book discussed was Separated @ Birth: A True Love Story of Twins Reunited, a memoir about two young women now in their 20s, born in Korea and adopted to two different families, in France and the US. The conversation veered, as it always does, from the book to other topics: this time, the impact of social media on finding biological family; the impact of social media on our kids; birth family reunions; trips to Guatemala; adoption and how our kids approach it now, as tweens and teens; how our own views of adoption have developed as we grow as adoptive parents. And on and on.

What a comfort it is to be in a roomful of people who understand the very specific experience of being an adoptive parent. Who “get” what you’re saying, with insight and without judgement, because they live it, too. Thank you, friends. xo



Bonnard in SF

March 11th, 2016

The kids and I saw the Pierre Bonnard show on Sunday. You would have thought I was dragging them for a day of hard labor in a diamond mine the way they resisted, but I digress. By the time we got inside, their bad moods had lifted. The Palace of Legion of Honor Museum is sited on a dramatic cliff overlooking the SF Bay, and views of the Golden Gate Bridge framed by hillsides of redwoods would cheer up anyone. Rubbing elbows with the scads of young, cool SF hipsters viewing Bonnard’s work didn’t hurt.

Either the kids are finally old enough to appreciate painting or we’ve done this so often something’s sinking in, but we made it to the end with only minor fisticuffs. Bonnard’s canvases often include dogs and cats, and spotting them became a game. I sprang for 3 separate AudioTours, which kept us distracted and apart. And as always, the trip ended in the Cafe with a delicious chunk of chocolate cake.

Overall, a success. We recommend!