Archive for July, 2010

Antigua, part 3

Friday, July 30th, 2010

When I visit Antigua with Olivia, the first place we go is the house where we lived in 2003, which we rented through Elizabeth Bell, whom I view as the unofficial “mayor” of the colonial town. In fact, I picked up a recent edition of the Revue, the monthly English-language magazine with articles on local people and events, and I see there’s a new column: “Ask Elizabeth.” Makes complete sense to me: in my experience, there is no question about Antigua or its history that cannot be answered by Elizabeth Bell. She’s even written a book about it, titled, appropriately enough, Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage. I referred to Elizabeth’s book often when writing my memoir, Mamalita.

The photo above is of our front door, which I love for its carved pattern and weathered wood. When we first moved in, the door featured a brass door-knocker shaped like a crouching lion. Unfortunately, the lion disappeared one day, never to be replaced. Oh well. Even without the extra decoration, the door is still beautiful. (more…)


Antigua Guatemala continued

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Summer in the United States is rainy season in Guatemala, and as anyone familiar with the tropics knows, when it rains here, it really pours. We just got word that the road to Panajachel and Lake Atitlán—where we planned to go next week with Tim and Mateo—is closed due to a mudslide. Not only tourists use the road, of course; it’s the main thoroughfare through the central part of the country. With luck, the road will be cleared soon for car traffic. (more…)


Antigua Guatemala

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

To anyone who has been reading this blog, I apologize for the delay in posting. We’ve had more difficulty than I anticipated settling in. No one’s fault—just the way things turned out.

When we arrived in Antigua on Sunday night, we discovered that it happened to be the feast day of Antigua’s patron saint, St. Santiago. A happy coincidence as each town in Guatemala honors a patron saint one day a year. A platform was set up in front of the Cathedral–the main one, that everyone calls simply “the Cathedral”—and a phalanx of marimba players entertained the audience.  A wonderful introduction. (more…)


A hotel lobby story

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Like many adoptive parents of children born in Guatemala, I have my own “hotel lobby story.” Why a hotel lobby story? Because a hotel lobby is where I held each of my babies in my arms for the very first time.

In 2006, deep in the struggle to write Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, I attended a writing workshop led by Joyce Maynard at her home in San Marcos, Guatemala. I knew the arc of my story. I had lived it. But what was my point of entry? Was it the moment my doctor informed me I’d never have children? Or did it happen during the five-day, 400-mile bicycle trip I took over Christmas 1998, when my now-husband Tim said he was open to the idea of parenthood through adoption? At Joyce’s workshop, another writer, Andi Sciacci, who also teaches writing, asked me a very simple question. She said, “Where does the story start for you?”

I had found my opening scene. (more…)


The sole of the matter

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Olivia and I leave for Guatemala tomorrow, and like many adoptive families who visit, we are bringing items we know can be used by people who live there. Vitamins, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and the most important item of all: shoes. 

A newly described, preventable disease afflicts some people in the highlands of Guatemala. It is called podoconiosis. The disease is caused by dust in volcanic soil being ground into the skin, causing an immune reaction that results in swelling of the feet. For many years, podoconiosis was mistaken for sleeping sickness (which causes similar swelling of the legs in tropical regions). Recently, however, a group of German dermatologists figured out the connection between walking barefoot or in open sandals in volcanic soil for decades with the characteristic swelling of the feet. (Please note:  I’ve italicized for decades to emphasize that the disease develops over many years, not during a hike up the side of a volcano.) (more…)


Farm animals as metaphor

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

In summer, around Mateo’s preschool and all over California, green grassy hillsides turn golden yellow. The dry grass presents a major fire hazard; hillsides must be cut. The steep slopes and scattered trees make tractors and mowers impractical. Weed-wackers work, but are highly labor intensive.

That’s why we call in the goats.

Having grown up in suburban New Jersey, I didn’t know much about the society of farm animals. Here’s what I learned. Left to their own devices, goats would wander off from the safety of the herd. Enter the herding dog. Seeming to act on instinct, the herding dog keeps the group together and guides them around hazards, such as predators in the wild, or, in a California neighborhood, the street.

How do herding dogs learn their skills? They observe other, more experienced dogs and pick up on subtle visual cues. As I watched the dynamic, I thought of how the behavior of animals parallels our own. Like young herding dogs, my children learn by watching me. They pick up on my visual cues. It’s a big responsibility.


NY Times: “Ranchers and Drug Barons Threaten Rain Forest”

Monday, July 19th, 2010

The Sunday, July 18 edition of the New York Times ran an article on page A6 that begins, “Great sweeps of Guatemalan rain forest, once the cradle of one of the world’s great civilizations, are being razed to clear land for cattle-ranching drug barons.” 

The article goes on to state, “Other parts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Central America’s largest protected area, have been burned down by small cities of squatters.” The article describes the squatters as “mainly peasants who come in search of farmland.” However, “willingly or not, they often become the pawns of the drug lords.”  (more…)


Boys’ home in San Andres

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

I’m posting a message sent out by Mayan Families, an organization based in Panajachel, Guatemala that is dedicated to helping the people of the Lake Atitlán region. I have visited Mayan Families and met with founders Sharon Smart-Poage and Dwight Poage. They are tireless in their efforts to improve the lives of indigenous Guatemalans. My husband and I sponsor a student through Mayan Families and support their mission.

From Mayan Families:

“For those of you who may not have heard, Tom Heaton’s oldest son Jose was tragically killed in Guatemala City last Saturday.  Memorials can be directed for support of the new boys’ home in San Andres that Tom’s Mission Guatemala and Mayan Families are jointly operating. Tom said, “Helping these boys who have had lives similar to Jose seems to me to give meaning to his life.” Memorial donations can be sent by mail: 

–Mission Guatemala/4725 Mansfield Drive/Newburgh, IN 47630

–Mayan Families/P.O. Box 52/Claremont, NC 28610 

 Or via Paypal at

and earmarked for the boys’ home in San Andres in memory of Jose Heaton.”

Here’s the link:

Thank you so much.


Mark your calendar

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

If you’re like me, you plan your schedule months in advance. That’s the plan anyway. 

With that in mind, I’m letting you know that the book launch for Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir will take place at my favorite indie bookstore, Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. The date is Saturday, November 13, 2010, at 7 p.m.

 Hope you can be there!

 By the way, if you live in a community with adoptive families who might be interested in a book reading, please let me know. I’d be honored to arrange one in your area.

P.S.: The photo is of me reading a piece I wrote about Mateo’s wonderful preschool at his graduation. My sister, Deanna, took the photo. (Thanks, De!)

Book Passage: 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera, California 94925 / (415) 927-0960 or (800) 999-7909


Kids in a [fill in the blank]

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

After the Fourth of July parade, as we drove down the main street in Coronado, Mateo spotted a candy store through the car window. Ever since then, he has asked, about once an hour, to go. 

Being a conscientious mom, I explained all the reasons we shouldn’t, including tooth decay and sugar bugs, and the disappointment sure to be felt by his dentist, whom we are scheduled to visit next week, after we return home to San Francisco. To strengthen my argument, I did what I always do when Mateo is relentless is his jonesing for sweets: I opened my mouth to show him my back fillings. “This is what happens to people who eat too much sugar,” I said. “Cavities.” 

But we’re on vacation and it’s a candy store. What kid can resist that? 

So I made a deal. If they ate breakfast and got themselves dressed, hung up their beach towels and put their clothes in the laundry, brushed their teeth and got in their pajamas—all things most kids do anyway, but that’s another story—maybe we might go to the candy store. We’ll see. 

On Tuesday afternoon, we went. Olivia, who doesn’t even like candy, saw the bins filled with every magnificent color and shape of sugar and carbohydrate, and literally danced with joy. Mateo scooped samples with both fists. As I watched them dart from pecan turtles to chunky fudge, I realized there’s a reason why the expression “kid in a candy store” has been passed down throughout the ages. 

Twenty minutes later, we left with each kid clutching a bag of treasure. Out on the sidewalk, they skipped a few steps ahead of me, close enough that I could hear them discussing the details of their stash. I pretended not to notice they had already broken their promise not to eat a single piece before dinner.