Archive for June, 2015

Father Stan Rother

Friday, June 26th, 2015

I’m writing this as a person who loves Guatemala, and as a practicing Catholic who has been praying for the canonization of Father Stan Rother, an Oklahoma missionary priest who was shot in the head and killed at his parish home in Santiago Atitlan in July 1981, during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Yesterday, the Associated Press announced that a commission in Rome has declared Rother a martyr, and efforts to canonize him a saint will go before a panel of 15 bishops and archbishops, in six months.

I read the news this morning on my Google alert, sitting in a chair in a village only a few miles away from Santiago Atitlan, where Father Rother was assassinated. I have visited his Santiago church, where his heart and blood are buried, and witnessed the deep and active faith of the parishioners there.

Father Stan Rother: American Martyr in Guatemala, written by John Rosengren, is a 2006 account of the events surrounding Rother’s death, the best I have found. Read it if you are interested in learning more about this good man.


Oscar Peren in Comalapa

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

I first learned of painter Oscar Peren when I lived in Antigua with Olivia in 2003. Another waiting adoptive mom who was fostering her daughter knew a lot about art, and lent me a book about Guatemalan artists, past and present. There, I read about painters from the town of Comalapa, including Oscar Peren. I was familiar with Peren’s name because a poster of his painting, “The Guatemalan Bus,” hangs in a bookstore in Antigua’s Square. I loved the picture’s humor and color, and wanted to see Peren’s work in person.

We hired a driver and Olivia and I made the pilgrimage to Peren’s Comalapa studio to meet him. The place was everything I hoped for: walls covered floor to ceiling with paintings, each one confident and beautiful and witty. I bought 3 pictures that day, which hang in our house in California. Each time I look at them, I see something more in the canvases.

This trip, we visited Oscar Peren’s Comalapa studio again, and I told him about our 3 pictures. I also told him how much my now 13-year-old daughter loves to paint and draw and sew–to make anything with her hands–and Oscar Peren nodded. He told Olivia he himself began to paint at the age of 3, and urged her to continue. He called Olivia, “La Futura.”

In the photo I’ve posted, you can see Olivia with Oscar Peren. Notice the canvas to Olivia’s left. It’s a self-portrait of Oscar Peren at age 3, barefoot and in a doorway, peeking in to observe the master painter who became Peren’s teacher. We bought the picture, and when we return to California, that self-portrait will hang in Olivia’s room. ~


San Juan La Laguna

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Dear Mateo,

We took the boat to San Juan, a village on Lake Atitlan known for its women’s weaving cooperative. The weavers use only natural dyes, made from herbs and spices and bark and berries. To give you an example: the red shawl I bought was dyed with carrots and paprika. I will show you when we get home.  Here are some photos that show the process. You can see the balls of threads and the elements they use to dye them.

Also: Notice the church, San Juan Bautista (that means “John the Baptist” in Spanish): the new structure was constructed behind the original facade, still standing a few hundred years after being built. You see the old wall, and the entrance hall from the old building. Then you see a whole new church.

Next time you come with me to Guatemala, we can visit San Juan if you want. It’s a very cool little town. We’ll take the boat from Panajachel. Remember when we did that with Olivia’s birth family? They loved seeing the volcanoes.

Dad said you are doing a page of math problems every night. I hope that is true!!!

We miss you!





Antigua, Guatemala

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Dear Mateo:

Yesterday in Antigua, we met up with Deborah Feore and her two lovely and amazing daughters from our Bay Area adoption group. You’ve met them at our annual adoption party, remember? It was so much fun to re-experience Antigua through the eyes of the enthusiastic girls. They liked everything about this town!

We ate lunch at Cafe Sky, took a stroll through the Square looking for the famous vendor “Ruth”–(her son’s name is Mateo!)–bought woven tablecloths at Colibri, ate orange chocolate bread from Dona Luisa’s, and wandered through the municipal mercado, where Deb revealed herself to be as mad for plastic “canastas” as I am. Canastas are the word Guatemalans use for the plastic tote bags that I buy a lot of, many of which are stashed in the closet downstairs.

As we walked along the cobblestone streets, one of her daughters said “This feels like my second home.” Ahhhh. — That was nice to hear.

We miss you!


Mommy (and Olivia, too) xoxo



Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Dear Mateo,

Thursday is Market Day in Chichicastenango, the largest artisan market in Guatemala, and last week, Olivia and I were there. Next time you are in Guatemala, we can go, too. In these photos, you can see vendors on the steps of the big church and in the market selling beautiful textiles and fruits.

We miss you and can’t wait to see you soon!



PS: Olivia loves her Spanish school and says she is learning a lot.


The Vendor Jesus

Monday, June 15th, 2015

If you happen to be in Panajachel, Guatemala, please buy a card from my 14-year-old friend, Jesus. Three years ago, Jesus spotted my son Mateo and me through a school window in Santa Catarina, a nearby village–we do stand out–and the next day, ran after us on the street in Panajachel.”I saw you in Santa Catarina,” he said, in perfect English. “You want to buy a card?”

Every year since then, Jesus has found us, and every year, we buy more and more cards. This trip, Olivia and I were waiting for a ride to our next destination when out of nowhere bounds Jesus, clutching a bundle of cards encased in plastic, calling “Senora, senora!” I was happy and relieved to see him. When we’d been in Pana a few days, and he hadn’t yet materialized, I worried.

Ask Jesus for a discount, but be warned that he bargains hard. At some point during the negotiation, in a serious voice, he probably will utter his favorite phrase, “Business is business.”

Here are two photos of Jesus’s wares–details of the embroidered blouses known as huipiles–and, above, a picture of him with Olivia and an Abuela, who, by the way, gifted me with a lovely textile to wrap tortillas.






Our front door Antigua 2015

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015


Our front door, the house where I fostered Olivia during 2003, in Antigua, Guatemala. June 2015. Estamos aqui!


Two videos

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

I recently watched this video, 11 Things About Asian Adoptees with DanAKADan, with 13-year-old Olivia and 10-year-old Mateo. They liked it a lot. One child paused the film and said, “They make being adopted sound cool.” The video was sent to me by Heritage Camps in Colorado, which gets an endorsement at the end.

My friend and fellow adoptive mom Lisa shared this video, Adoption and Identity Intertwined, on an adoption listserve. It’s composed of short interviews with teens who are adopted–some born the US, some in China and other countries. They talk about identity and what “being adopted” means to them. I plan to re-watch later with Olivia and Mateo to hear their reactions. And (no surprise here), discuss.  (ps: I noticed the music was composed by DanAKADan, whose video I shared above. Talented young man.)



Book Review: The Joy of Adoption

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

I read a lot of books on the subject of adoption, and each one teaches me something. Recently I finished Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption, and what I learned is that sometimes it’s nice to read 101 stories that end happily. Sometimes it’s nice to settle into a chair, book in hand, and smile. To finish a short essay and think, “My family is part of this world called adoption, and we are all inter-connected.” That’s the promise of the Chicken Soup franchise, and The Joy of Adoption delivers.

This is not a book about adoption’s complexities. This is not a book about adoption’s challenges and losses. This is a book about the positive aspects of adoption—the feeling of destiny that can surround it, the conviction that a family is together for a reason, the faith that everything coming before led to this particular child  joining these particular parents. The subtitle tells it all: 101 Stories about Forever Families and Meant-to-Be Kids.

The Joy of Adoption is a reissue of the 2008 Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul, with 17 new stories added. Reading through them, I was reminded of adoption’s global history—essays are set in Vietnam, Russia, Hungary, Guatemala—and how it has changed. Few, if any, adoptions are processed today from those places. I also was led to reflect on what it felt like to grow up in an orphanage in 1950s Florida, thanks to a moving essay by Roger Dean Kiser, “Mrs. Usher.” Bree Cutting Sibbel writes about being part of Operation Babylift from Vietnam, and how the experience led her to help organize the Vietnamese Adoptee Network. In a powerful piece titled “The Boy,” Keri Riley writes about foster care: “The boy couldn’t read, so I taught him. He’s impulsive, so I guide him. He gets scared, so I hold him. He is not a lost cause. He is my cause.”

The authors are adoptive and foster parents, people who are adopted, and birth mothers who relinquish and later adopt. As coauthor LeAnn Thieman says in her Introduction, “Every adoptive parent, child, and family member will find a piece of themselves in these stories.”

Many of the essays in this compilation contain a religious slant that might be off-putting for some readers. All of the works are uplifting, which may dissuade readers as well. But if you’re looking for a volume of well-written, feel-good essays about adoption, The Joy of Adoption may be just the warm broth you need.

–Jessica O’Dwyer