Archive for August, 2013

Guatemalan bus

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

You may be aware of the history of violence on the buses ridden by Guatemalan citizens, particularly in the capital. If you’re not, please be aware that the facts included in Guatemala: Extortionists Target Bus Riders are disturbing. The good news is that progress has been made on some buses, by instituting a system of prepaid cards that remove the need for the driver to have cash on hand. Here’s an excerpt:

Since 2004, 917 bus drivers have gone straight to the cemetery.

The deaths, which include 50 so far this year, are the result of gangs’ extorting bus drivers and bus company owners, according to the government.

Bus drivers often have to pay extortions three times a week to criminals working with gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio-18, and Los Paisas, who have burst onto the scene, according to Rony López, a prosecutor for cases involving organized crime. The gangs receive most of their orders from incarcerated leaders.

In a single week, a bus company owner may have to come up with $70,000 quetzales (US$8,879) to pay extortionists, according to López.

“The money we earn depends on the number of passengers that get on the bus. If we have to pay extortion, we earn only $40 quetzales (US$5) a day. Then, we still have to pay our bus assistant,” said Carlos Rosales, a bus driver who has been on the job for 26 years. “This situation has a huge effect on us.”

The most violent period for bus drivers in the Central American nation was from 2006-2009, when there were as many as five bus drivers killed a day as the result of extortion.

“Five bus drivers killed a day.” Astounding.



Back home and reading at the O’Hanlon Center

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
I’m back from a summer of traveling virtually nonstop with Olivia and Mateo–from San Diego to the Rocky Mountains to Virginia and North Carolina, up to Northern Minnesota, back to San Diego and then to Maine. What an amazing country this is! Gigantic and incredibly diverse, in looks and attitudes. Having spent most of my life on the two coasts, I’m always grateful for the chance to experience life in other places, especially ones as beautiful and interesting as where we visited.
On Monday, the kids returned to school, and I’ve spent most of every moment since then getting organized. One of my nieces lent me the book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (a bestseller years ago, which everyone else in the world has read already, I realize, but hey, better late than never!), which has inspired me to attack the chaos of my life, beginning with my closets, the closets of my kids, and my desk downstairs. In the past 48 hours, I’ve made huge progress, ending up with bags and bags of stuff to be donated or thrown out. My hope is that by clearing out the old, I’ll make room for the new, and for me, that means enough space in my brain to allow it to wander. My big realization this summer is how much I long to return to writing a piece longer than 300 or 500 or 800 words. If my external vista is clear, my thinking goes, so will be my internal one. That’s my hope anyway.
In the meantime, tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll be reading (a new essay) at the O’Hanlon Center in Mill Valley from 7-9 PM, with three other local women authors: CB Follett, Eve Pell, and Abby Wasserman. I love reading at the O’Hanlon–a beautiful setting and always an incredibly attentive and literate crowd. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by!

PS: The paragraph breaks have disappeared. Why, I don’t know. And I’ve given up trying to fix it. Sorry for the compressed type!


Penelope Casas and her guidebook to Spain

Monday, August 19th, 2013
My sister Adrienne forwarded me today’s NY Times obituary of Spanish cookbook writer Penelope Casas. What the Times didn’t mention was Penelope’s tour book of Spain, “Discovering Spain: An Uncommon Guide.” Sometime in the 1990s, Adrienne and her family lived for a year in Spain, and our other sister, Patrice, and I visited for two weeks. The three of us drove together all over the country—Granada, Sevilla, the Extremadura—with Penelope’s guidebook firmly in hand. Her writing voice was so strong that I read the entries out loud as a narrator would tell a story, in an accent I imagined was hers—British, which I know now is wrong; Penny (as we came to call her because she made us feel we were friends) hailed from Whitestone, Queens. Penelope’s book caused me to fall in love with Spain, the Spanish language, Spanish food, Spanish culture. Since then, I’ve thought of her often, and her influence on our trip to Spain, because in a roundabout way, both led me to Guatemala, where my children were born and through which my life was changed forever. Rest in peace, Penelope Casas.
With gratitude from
Your Devoted Fan.


ABC News compares costs of gestational surrogacy with international, domestic, and foster adoption

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Fascinating. And among the first of many articles sure to be written on this subject. Read it here.


Dear Abby’s answer to an adoptive mom

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

I love Dear Abby and have read her column for years, but her recent answer to an adoptive mom asking a question regarding adoption left me scratching my head. Summary: Someone asks awkward questions in front of an adoptive mom’s kids and Abby advises the Adoptive Mom (not Adopted Mom, btw, as the letter is signed) to answer “That’s a long story.” Plus, Abby expresses chagrin that anyone is insensitive enough to ask nosy questions at all.

Where to begin? First, this kind of question come with the territory, unfortunately. I hate to sound crass, but get used to it! Second, in my experience, now 11+ years into it, many times folks truly are curious and word their questions from a place of not-knowing, rather than insensitivity. In fact, I find often the most “unlikely-looking” people often have a direct connection to adoption–their grandson or niece is adopted, they are adopted, their brother or sister is adopted–and they are trying to find their way in to a conversation, to engage. Or, they are interested in possibly adopting, and haven’t found the right person with whom to broach the subject. Thus, rather than answering “That’s a long story,” how about “Why do you ask?” That way, you’re inviting a dialogue, which you can choose to continue or shut down. Based on the person’s demeanor (and trust me, soon enough, you’ll develop a radar), maybe you can say “I’d prefer to keep the personal details of my child’s life private,” or “I’m real and I’m his mother. What do you mean by ‘real mother’?” Of course, sometimes it’s best simply to smile and walk away. That’s always an option. Not in a mean way! But just to be clear in your body language: This conversation is over.

The fact is, your kids are watching you and learning from you. For the rest of their lives, they’ll encounter these questions. Rather than avoiding the conversation, give them some tools to work with. A book helpful to many adoptive parents is the WISE UP Powerbook by Marilyn Schoettle, available on Amazon and elsewhere. Personally, I have studied this book and swear by it.

As always, these are only my thoughts on the subject to take or leave. Here’s the link to the original letter.



“Bboy for Life” and a Maya Frieze

Monday, August 12th, 2013

A new documentary about Guatemala’s breakdancing subculture, BBoy for Life, will premiere in Louisville, Kentucky on September 11. You can watch the trailer here. Thank you to Sharon Smart of Mayan Families for forwarding me the link.

At this point, I’m not sure where else the film will be screened, but I’ll keep an eye out for more information and will let you know.

Also: I’m not sure if you saw this announcement about a newly discovered and beautifully preserved Maya wall sculpture, found under a pyramid in Holmul, Guatemala, in the Peten region (around Tikal). In case not, here’s an article from USA Today. And a link to information about the Holmul site, from Boston University.



Adoptive Families magazine’s annual cover photo contest.

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

Calling all parents of adorable kids (and really, isn’t that every one of us?)! The deadline for Adoptive Families magazine’s annual cover photo contest is September 4, 2013. Snap those photos and download your images today! Details are here.

Good luck! ~


Summer in San Diego

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I’m in San Diego with the kids, where my sister Deanna and her three girls also are visiting. I love being in a quiet house with sleeping children, the morning after a day at the swimming pool and dinner at our favorite taco restaurant, topped off with big bowls of mint chip ice cream over a game of Monopoly. This entire summer, I’ve never slept better. Playing outside all day does that to you, I guess. Once I gave up the idea of trying to “do” anything else–writing, reading, exercising in a focused way, and a million other activities and tasks I can’t remember now because I’m distracted thinking about getting breakfast on the table–I’ve cherished this summer. We can’t be productive all the time, you know?

Sometimes we just have to load up the snacks and the beach towels and the sunscreen and pile everyone into the minivan to drive hither and yon in search of the perfect pool, beach, playground, or zoo. This summer, that’s my job. And I’m grateful.






Land of Gazillion Adoptees launches online magazine

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The Minnesota-based  organization, “Land of Gazillion Adoptees,” has launched its online magazine, Gazillion Voices. You can read more about the publication and the story of its genesis in this interview on Minnesota Public Radio. Here’s an excerpt:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When many people think of adoption, they tend to focus on the adoptive parents and the baby they bring home. But less attention is paid to what becomes of those babies… ”That’s one of the biggest things about adoption that people forget to think about,” said magazine co-editor Kevin Vollmers of Minneapolis. “We actually grow up and make something of ourselves.

“We have kids, we have families, we have our own professional lives,” said Vollmers, who was born in South Korea and adopted at age 7 by a family from western Minnesota. “And there is some really important work that is being done by adopted persons.”


Vollmers is a well-known player in the Minnesota adoption community. His blog, Land of Gazillion Adoptees, often questioned the business of adoption. Alexis Oberdorfer, senior director of adoption programs at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, considers Vollmers both an ally and critic.

But she throws her support behind Vollmers’ efforts to elevate the voices of adoptees. “It’s absolutely important that voices of all members of the adoption process are heard, and have a place to be shared, and for adoptees to find commonalities, and frankly, critique different pieces so we can evolve over time,” said Oberdorfer, who is herself an adoptee.


Vollmers insists that “Gazillion Voices” is pro-adoptee. Many adoptees think they have had good experiences, he said, and the magazine will have a place for them.

“It is very complex, adoption is,” he said. “To break it down to into pro-adoption and anti-adoption is a disingenuous conversation. It doesn’t allow for broader conversations. I’ve been labeled as anti-adoption, which is completely false.

“But that does not mean I can’t look at, for example, South Korea, where I’m from, and say there is a problem when single women who actually want to keep their kids cannot do that because of societal pressures and familial pressures.”

The inaugural issue will feature contributions from adoptees but also from a birth parent and adoptive parents.

As an adoptive mother to two children from Guatemala, I look forward to gaining insights by learning from the perspectives of the writers at Gazillion Voices.  Good luck to the new publication! ~



Northern Minnesota

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Olivia and I loved Northern Minnesota. For me, especially the clouds, so different from our clear California skies. We ate hand-harvested wild rice, wall-eye (a river fish), nut rolls (who could resist that name?), and drank local coffee and fresh spring water (filtered in some way I’m assuming?) Every day, I walked with my friend’s dogs and bathed in the lake. Oh, and used a composting outhouse. I learned about the Iron Range (Northern Minn. is a mining region), and the meaning of the word “Ranger,” which, if you are from those parts, you already understand.

We visited the house in Hibbing where Bob Dylan grew up (below left), and saw an open-pit mine, much more gigantic than my photo (below right) shows. I got my fill of burgers and fried food at “The Stand” outside Chisholm, which served the best onion rings ever. We met friends at the Highway 5 grill, and listened to an outdoor concert in Ely while browsing through a craft fair.  A great trip.