Archive for May, 2012

A book for Memorial Day: “You Know When the Men Are Gone” by Siobhan Fallon

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

On Monday, the kids wanted to go to a certain playground they like in the city, and I agreed, as long as we could stop by the San Francisco National Cemetery on the Presidio first. It was Memorial Day, and in some small way, I wanted to pay my respects to the 30,000 soldiers who are buried there. Both kids protested, but once we entered the cemetery and they were confronted with the long, straight rows of white headstones that stretched across acres of grass, they stopped complaining. The ground we stood on felt hallowed.

Today, as I looked at my photos, I thought of a book I read recently, that has nothing to do with adoption or Guatemala, but that I loved reading and still think about: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. The book is a series of eight short stories about life on the army base at Fort Hood, Texas, where U.S. soldiers bound for Iraq and Afghanistan are deployed, or waiting to be deployed, or are just returning from deployment. What’s fascinating about the collection is that Fallon focuses mainly on the wives who are left behind when their soldiers leave, painting a vivid, truthful, passionate, funny, and sad picture of how spouses cope and manage and carry on in the face of painful and scary absences. Fallon knows her subject: she’s a writer/military spouse who lived at Fort Hood when her Army major husband was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty.

You Know When the Men Are Gone was chosen as a Best Book Pick of 2011 by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Self magazine, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Utah’s The Spectrum. Check out Siobhan Fallon’s author website here.


Standing in line at Costco today.

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

On Sunday, we’re hosting a cook-out at our house for families with children born in Guatemala. This is our third year holding this event, so it’s officially considered part of our family tradition. If you live within driving distance of Marin County, are a family through adoption with children from Guatemala, and you’re free on Sunday afternoon, please email me and I’ll send you directions. Apologies for not notifying you sooner—party-planning is not my strong suit, as anyone who knows me can attest.

Anyway, today as I was checking out at Costco, my cart loaded with hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken apple sausages, and piled high with assorted condiments, cheeses, and sides, the woman behind me said, “That’s a lot of hamburger buns.” She was middle-aged and harried, which is to say, she looked a lot like me.

Maybe I was feeling energized from noshing on too many free samples of jalapeno dip, madelines, and sliced tri-tip beef, but for whatever reason, I told her about our cook-out and my hope for warm weather, and how most of the guests had kids the same ages as mine, and how our kids and their friends have anticipated this party since Christmas, they’re one another’s BFFs. I finished my spiel by explaining, “The way we all know each other is that we’re families through adoption.”

The woman stared at me, her eyebrows rising ever so slightly. “So the kids know they’re adopted?”

Her comment stopped me short. Was it possible, in this day and age, that some adopted children might not be aware of how they came to their families?  I thought of the other adoptive parents I know, the dialogue we started the moment we first held our babies, about their other, first mommies, the ones whose tummies they grew in, a dialogue we continue every day; the workshops and seminars we attend; the books and blog posts we read; the groups we belong to; the heritage camps where we get together annually. The meetings with birth mothers we arrange, the relationships to foster families we maintain, the Spanish classes, the life books, the trips to Guatemala.

And yet. Here stood a woman before me, oblivious to any of it. Here stood a woman who thought it could be possible our beloved children might not know they’re adopted. I was reminded once again, standing in line at Costco, that not everyone sees the world of adoption through the same lens I do. 

Realizing that, I said simply, “Yes.”







Guatemala 900, still waiting

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Since I began blogging, I’ve logged many posts on the group known as the Guatemala 900, American families waiting to finalize the adoptions of the Guatemalan children to whom they’ve been matched. Now numbering around 300, the Guatemala 900 cases have been stalled since the shutdown of adoptions between Guatemala and the U.S. in December 2007, nearly four-and-a-half years ago. Since then, the waiting children have remained in care in Guatemala, while their adoptive families support them from afar in the U.S.

On May 10, 2012, Senator Mary Landrieu hosted a public conference call, in which the Senator relayed information about her most recent trip to meet with Guatemalan officials to discuss the pending adoptions, and her plans to advocate for families in the future. On May 14, the State Department issued its official statement on the conference call and the current situation; you can read about it here.

In the meantime, I’ve posted two photos of my children, one taken in November 2007, and the other taken a few days ago, to demonstrate how long four-and-a-half years means in the life of a child.

After hearing Senator Landrieu deliver the news of how little progress has been made in the last four-plus years, the temptation for me would have been to run sobbing from the room, giving up all hope of resolution. Yet the families of the Guatemala 900 soldier on, believing that one day soon their cases will be finalized.

I just want to say, again, how much I admire the Guatemala 900, for their loyalty to the children they understandably consider their own, and for holding fast to their dreams of providing those children with permanent, loving families.


Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala, part 2

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Before leaving the subject of my service trip to Guatemala, I’m posting a few more photos of places we went and people we met. The orphanages we visited are privately (not government) run and funded, mainly by donations from individuals and families. Our trip was led by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, founder of  “Service Trips to Guatemala with Leceta,” aka “Team Ceta” (top row, far left), and Sandra Hurst (top row, third from left), long-time staffer from sponsor Orphan Resources International (ORI).  Several folks have emailed me with questions about my experience. Here’s a sampling, with my answers:

What is a service trip and why did you choose to go on one?

A service trip can be specifically project-based, such as building a house or community center, setting up or working in a medical clinic, installing water filters or stoves, or teaching skills or languages. Over the years, I’ve seen countless teams of volunteers on my flights to Guatemala and I was curious about the phenemenon. I chose to join “Team Ceta” because I have long admired Leceta Guibault’s leadership in the international adoption community.

What did you do on your trip?

Each service trip is different, according to current need. On this sojourn, most of Team Ceta and ORI’s efforts centered on an orphanage, Misioneros del Camino, founded and run by the inspirational Leonor Portelo, a Cuban-born widow who has dedicated her life to helping the children of Guatemala since 1986. Team Ceta volunteers who possess skills in working with children with disabilities and/or speech therapy assisted in the neurological clinic. Others built and installed two bookshelves, and painted the exterior of the dining hall. One volunteer organized and led a Fun Run in which we all participated; others supervised crafts and photography projects. In addition, we hosted activities for the children at Rosa de Amor and My Special Treasure orphanages. There was no shortage of things to do.

Wasn’t it hard on the children for you to interact with them for only a brief time?

I speak a little bit of Spanish, which allowed me to chat with the kids at each of the orphanages we visited and ask their opinions. Perhaps they were only being polite, but every one of them said they liked having us there, that it was something different to do, someone else to talk to; that our conversations were interesting, about a world beyond the orphanage fence. I should emphasize that most volunteers, in general, do not interact with children to the same degree that Team Ceta did on this trip, but focus their efforts on building, painting, or delivering food or health services.

Guatemala can be a dangerous country. Did you feel safe?

Team Ceta and ORI assign volunteers to serve only in areas that are known to be safe for tourists, around Lake Atitlan and Antigua. We traveled by private shuttle or bus, with a bilingual guide.

How were the accommodations? What about the food?

We bunked two to a room in a lovely mission home used by Orphan Resources International called “My Father’s House.”  The food was fabulous. In fact, I think this was the first trip I’ve ever taken to Guatemala where I didn’t lose weight.

Would you go on another service trip?

Absolutely yes. The sooner the better! ~


Photo above, top from left: Leceta Chisholm Guibault, Alison Caissie, Sandra Hurst, Dianne Sharpe, Meghan Talbot, Stephanie Finney, Adele Griffith, Jessica O’Dwyer. Bottom row, from left: Robyn Caissie, Kahleah Guibault, Hilary Umbach, Marcia Harvey Talbot, Mary Bain Sebastian. Photograph courtesy Marcia Talbot Photography.

Photos below: Painting the dining hall, young friends, food delivery truck, two children, the new bookshelves, Fun Run, neurological clinic, more young friends, blue door. Dining hall photo courtesy of Adele Griffith. Photos of young friends, Fun Run, and blue door courtesy Mary Bain Sebastian Photography.




Pictures from a service trip to Guatemala

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012


It’s Wednesday and I’m still struggling to regain my equilibrium after a 10-day service trip to Guatemala headed by adoptive mom Leceta Chisholm Guibault, affiliated with Orphan Resources International in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Among other activities, we volunteered at an orphanage and neurological clinic, painted the exterior of a large building, hosted a Fun Run, and delivered food (lots of it–100 pound bags of beans and rice; sacks full of maseca to hand-make tortillas; more sugar than I would have imagined; and fortified powder to constitute a special protein-enhanced milk).

I met other women as in love with Guatemala as I am, and dozens of children I will never forget.


Over the next few weeks, I hope to make sense of it all. In the meantime, here are photos from our first days, beginning with my children’s send-off in California that included suitcases bulging with donations (thank-you, friends!), to sorting clothes into categories with fellow volunteer and adoptive mom Mary Bain Sebastian (above), to stops in Panajachel and Santa Cruz, on Lake Atitlan.

Trusting a picture can indeed say a thousand words. ~



On a service trip.

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Hi Friends,

I’m in Guatemala until Sunday on my first-ever service trip, borrowing someone’s internet access to write this. My attempts to post at least one photo failed, so I’ll try again later, or after I return.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. I feel lucky and grateful to be here.