Archive for November, 2013

More on The Happiness Project

Monday, November 25th, 2013

My interpretation of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project continues. And although months have gone by, I remain stuck on her first task, the de-clutter phase. That segment alone could occupy the rest of my life, because no sooner do I get rid of one thing than a second thing materializes to replace it. In my defense, most of the stuff does not belong to me, but enters the house via school backpacks carried by the family’s junior members. As a kid, I don’t remember having nearly the papers, folders, and projects that my children lug home daily. However, because this first-world problem bedevils only people who possess enough resources to buy paper and folders, not to mention enjoy access to schools, I’ll stop complaining.

Back to clutter. In the culling, purging, and donating phase, books for me represented the final frontier. I love and cherish my books, to the point of irrationality. Maybe this is because for so many years I dreamed of owning books, and couldn’t. A career in the art world, undertaken sans trust fund, will do that to a person. Not until I met, fell in love with, and married my husband—who, thankfully, works at a decent, steady job—did I feel solvent enough to indulge my passion for books by buying them. And buy them I did, with abandon, until our room downstairs, my quote unquote office, overflowed with books that, until recently, crowded my desk, the shelves, the floor, and indeed, threatened to overwhelm my psyche.

How could I give up even one of them? When I knew the story of each acquisition, the tale of how it came into my hands?

But give them up I must. Give them up I did. My de-cluttering mania forced me to make decisions. All books about adoption and Guatemala, I kept. Any book signed by a writer, I kept. Books on the craft of writing; art volumes from my museum days; any novel, collection, or chapbook I simply adore; and the one book I owned as a child–Teena and the Magic Pot—remain. Everything else, gone. Donated to the used bookstore run by our local library, or to the Salvation Army and Goodwill. Somebody else can and will treasure my books. From now on, with few exceptions, I borrow from the library. As we say in California: Reduce, reuse, recyle.

My Gratitude List:

In Guatemala, during my last trip, I bought a gorgeous pillow cover made from a full-sized purple and orange huipile. Too big for a standard pillow form to stuff it, the cover sat folded for weeks, useless. This weekend, I bought three yards of muslin and two bags of fluff, and—easy as that–Olivia sewed me up a form on her handy Singer. Friends, we have a pillow. Thank you, Olivia!

When I go to bed at night, I can’t wait to wake up so I can eat breakfast, my favorite meal. Also from this trip to Guatemala, I brought home a stash of the “Salvavida” granola served in Guatemalan restaurants, which you can buy packaged in Antigua’s large grocery, the bodegona. For days, I’ve been sprinkling a tablespoon of Salvavida on my usual cereal, fruit, and yogurt, and remembering my sojourn to that special country. Delicious!

Which reminds me: I’m a coffee drinker who cannot think or talk without caffeine. Every morning, before I get out of bed, my husband Tim brews a pot of very strong coffee, and hand delivers me a cup. This before my feet have touched the ground. Thank you, Tim. Thank you!

Onward to the holidays. ~


NY Review of Books on Guatemala

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Glimmers of Hope in Guatemala” offers a thorough overview of the political history of Guatemala, and its direction, in the NY Review of Books. The article is written by Stephen Kinzer, author of Bitter Fruit, about the role of United Fruit in Guatemala, and the new book, The Brothers, about John Foster and Allen Dulles (US secretary of state and CIA director), and the parts they played in United Fruit and the 1954 overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz. (My husband is reading The Brothers now and recommends it as “fascinating.” I’ll read it next.)


NY Times on foster-adopt families

Monday, November 18th, 2013
This November 14, 2013 New York Times article, God Called Them to Adopt. And Adopt and Adopt and Adopt, focuses mainly on two families who adopted several children from foster care, and their experiences. What I really like about this piece is the candor of the parents involved, who are honest about their struggles, including the struggles they never anticipated. One quote: “‘When I first went into this, I had this idea that everyone should be doing this,’ [the mom] told me, referring to foster-care adoption. ‘But if you are going to do it, you better be darn well sure you can handle it.’” And another: “I thought, I’m just going to love these kids… and it will be fine. I had no idea.”
I would say the same for adoption of any kind. You don’t know, can’t know, the challenges you may face, and you better be committed to take on whatever comes your way. I really admire the commitment and strength of the parents profiled, who clearly love their children and want to do what is best for them.
Please be warned that there’s a layer of religion that overlays the article, and if this offends you, prepare to be offended. But honestly, from my reading, the dedication of the parents as described transcends religious beliefs. The writer Maggie Jones penned an excellent article on a complicated subject. Finally, as usual, the comments from readers on the Times website may sting. You may need to brace yourself before reading.


Philomena, the movie

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Judi Dench stars in Philomena, coming to theaters this fall. From the movie website:

Philomena is the true story of one mother’s search for her lost son.

Falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was taken away by the nuns for adoption in America. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain.

Then she met Martin Sixsmith, a world-weary political journalist who happened to be intrigued by her story. Together they set off for America on a journey that would not only reveal the extraordinary story of Philomena’s son, but also create an unexpectedly close bond between them.

The film is a compelling narrative of human love and loss and ultimately celebrates life. It is both funny and sad and concerns two very different people, at different stages of their lives, who help each other and show that there is laughter even in the darkest places.

The book “The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee” was published in 2009. It acted as a catalyst for thousands of adopted Irish children and their ‘shamed’ mothers to come forward to tell their stories. Many are still searching for their lost families.


US-born kids visit family in Guatemala

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
This interesting article, Minnesota group takes US-born grandchildren to Guatemala for first-time visit with their abuelos, tells the story of 14 kids born in the USA to Guatemalan parents who live here without documentation and thus can’t return to their birth country to visit extended family. The article spotlights the Minnesota-based group which arranged the trip, as well as filmmaker Luis Argueta (AbUSed: The Postville Raid), who documented the journey. Reading the article and watching the film trailer, I see many parallels between the kids described here and my own children, who also cross the border to visit extended family. Looking forward to the film. ~
Image credit: courtesy Latina Lista


The Big Kites

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

At the risk of outing myself as a stick-in-the-mud, I will confess here that I hate Halloween. The pressure to find or make the perfect costume, the actual trick-or-treating itself, the excessive hauls of candy, the subsequent battles over the rationing of said candy, and my own inability to resist the stashes of chocolate I know are hidden in every cabinet, tote bag, pillowcase, and drawer: All of it conspires to bring out my worst characteristics.

So when my friend S, another adoptive mom to two kids born in Guatemala who lives near us in California, invited my sister Patrice and me to share her rented house in Antigua during the All Saints’ Day celebration on November 1, we said yes.  For years we’d wanted to witness the flying of the giant kites at Sumpango—constructed with colorful tissue paper affixed to bamboo frames by teams of builders who compete for glory and prizes–and last week, we finally did. Magnificent!

Later, we visited the cemetery in Antigua, where, as in cemeteries throughout Guatemala, families gathered around gravestones to remember their beloved dead.

It’s easy to get to Sumpango from Antigua. Just be sure to leave early, because the traffic becomes insane. We made arrangements through the fabulous Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations.

To learn more about the Sumpango celebration, read Things to Do in Guatemala: Visit the Sumpango Festival of Giant Kites.