Thursday, May 16, 2019


I'm trying to figure out how to post pics from my phone to

Getting ready to start another Camino, this time from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I would like to at least keep some kind of blog this time, but wondering what platform to use. Problem is I don't feel like putting too much energy into the tech logistics of it after walking all day. My goal would be to post one of those breezily articulate, humorous, thoughtful diaries, interspersed with pictures of the trip. If only it were that easy with just a phone. I don't even remember how to do any of that, while comfortably at home with a real computer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

August, 2015 Update

So now it is August 4, 2015 and I'm not sure what I wrote last.

Job: At some point I moved from doing Clinical Research in the UNM Emergency Dept to UNM Project ECHO (Check it out, it is an extraordinarily creative and effective public health intervention that is spreading all over the world) I loved the program, had a well-paying management position, but felt tied to my desk and with so many diverse and changing expectations, stress, deadlines and supervising people, etc. kind of took some of the fun out of it. I got a partial retirement (will get the rest of it when my Dept. of Health retirement kicks in in 2 years) and started working at Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless in December, 2014. They wanted to interview me for a management position because of all my experience and I had to do a real sales job to convince them to hire me in a much lower position, working directly with clients. I ran the outreach van, doing syringe exchange and harm reduction education with mostly people addicted to opiates. Also ran a women's group for homeless women. Great work! I enjoyed the client interaction very much, but have found that i am less and less patient, tolerant of supervision, administrative policies, etc. Long story short, at age 60, I've been written up for insubordination twice and got a week suspension without pay once. Then I tore my rotator cuff at work (lifting boxes of syringes onto the outreach van!) and had to fight to get Workers Comp - got the sense people thought I was bilking the system or lying in some way. I didn't realize it would be an adversarial thing.... I've paid into the system for years and the employer has insurance for it, but anyhoo. Will go back at some point, preferably parttime.

In the meantime, my mosaic mailbox business is doing very well: www.mirafloresmosaics Also teaching a very popular Intro to Mosaic Art class through UNM Continuing Education. Hoping to figure out a way to do some classes at my house, too, but not sure how to market it.

Health: So I had rotator cuff surgery on June 19th and have been in a humiliating arm immobilizer sling ever since (I'm 6 weeks out now). Starting physical therapy this Friday, Aug. 7, and am so looking forward on working to get my range of motion back. I figured that even with this sling, I could at least hike, but didn't realize how only having one mobile arm affects the balance and ability to stop a fall from happening. So I went down hard on my knee and now it's infected (I really want to post a pic here of it, but you will never want to eat scrambled eggs on a red plate again if you see it.) I'm on antibiotics and that's enough about that.

Travel There was a wonderful trip to Istanbul and southern Turkey at some point that I'm not sure I've written about. I highly recommend spending some time in Turkey. My brother is a Turkish citizen now and married to Necla, who is from there, so they were fantastic guides. In Dec./Jan., Olivia and I spent a couple of lovely weeks in Oaxaca, southern Mexico and then a week in Mexico City, meeting and getting to know our second cousins, the Chirinos, there. As you may recall, I finally found them after over a decade of research, seeking this lost branch of my family. Lovely folks! Patricio, my second cousin and his wife, Pao Castillo, Patricio's father Patricio (who was a member of the President's cabinet and the governor of Veracruz in the past), and son/grandson Patricio, my second cousin once removed and Olivia's third cousin. Also my other second cousins, Patricio's sisters, Monica y Andrea. Fabulous people! We had a wonderful time and Olivia got to visit the Frida Kahlo blue house museum. Have lots of stories and photos from that trip I should include here at some point.

Also on the topic of Travel, I have my sights set on walking 500 miles across Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago Compostela in June 2016. I often think about and plan this trip as a way to avoid pesky chores, repressed hostility, boredom, thinking about the parts of my future I don't want to think about. It works! I am hoping that Olivia will walk with me, but I'm fine to walk it alone, too.

More on this later. So I'm back.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Cave of the Sleeping Sharks

July, 1975: It turned out to be a bad idea to paint the Bronco camouflage before driving down to Central America. Our idea was to be able to hide the truck in the jungle while we were out SCUBA diving. But mostly it meant we’d be repeatedly stopped by military police to be interrogated, the Bronco ransacked, and the contents strewn out on the highway while they searched for weapons and drugs. At one Mexican checkpoint, the federalistas became suspicious when they saw the SCUBA tanks and then reacted with alarm when they found my bag of tampons – complete with string fuses... They were sure this was some serious bomb-making gear. Fortunately they were so abashed by my description of what tampons were used for that they squealed away and left us to pack it all up and be on our way.

I like to be open to whatever comes along when I travel, but my boyfriend Steve was a compulsive and paranoid planner. Every evening, with the sweet, clamoring racket of tropical birds in the trees above, I swung in a hammock with a Dos Equis while he pored over maps and guidebooks, obsessively choreographing every minute of our trip. So I wasn’t that disappointed when the Bronco broke down constantly, forcing us to hang out in backwater villages and make new friends. Steve also didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so I got to be an expert at explaining what was wrong with the engine while he stood by helplessly. The mechanics snickered at him. By the end of the first month, I’d started to hate Steve, his wispy blonde mustache and his control trip.

We did do a lot of SCUBA diving. That was something Steve and I had in common. We brought a portable air compressor so we wouldn’t be tied to dive resorts to refill the tanks. .. Explored virgin coral reefs with explosions of tropical fish; big parrot fish and trigger fish followed us; fearless and curious about our purring bubbles. Occasionally there would be barracudas with menacing teeth. I used my hand to cover the regulator over my mouth because I heard they tend to strike at shiny things. Once in awhile the fish would all disappear and an ominance would grow. You could feel the ghostly presence just before you saw the shark. Black, hollow eyes, a large form undulating past with the economy of a perfect prehistoric machine. They terrified me.

From the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico we took a ferry to Isla Mujeres. I had heard about the island from an episode of “The Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau,” right before we left on our trip. The show was about sharks discovered to be mysteriously lying motionless in a cave off the coast of Isla Mujeres. A few species, like nurse sharks, have developed the ability to breathe while lying still, but most other types have to keep moving, to force water into their mouths and out their gill slots in a process called “ram ventilation” in order to breathe. The ones in the cave at Islas Mujeres were said to be bull and reef sharks, definite “ram ventilator” breathers, but – inexplicably - they were either sleeping or stoned. Cousteau got word of this and flew down to Isla Mujeres to investigate. Of course I wanted to investigate it, too. Steve pointed out that Cousteau was on the island for months and had to dive numerous times before he saw any sleeping sharks in the cave. And only one fisherman knew how to find the spot, so of course Steve poo pooed the idea. I ignored him.

We found a “hotel” with hooks on the walls for our hammocks and strung them up. While Steve re-organized everything and laid out his maps and guides, I took off on foot for the wharf. I asked around and within half an hour, I met a fisherman who said his cousin, Carlos Garcia, was the guy who discovered the sharks and who guided Cousteau there and yes, he’d introduce him to me, “just wait here un momentito.” Back he came with Carlos, a lobster fisherman locally nicknamed “Valvula” for his ability to deep dive with no extra breathing apparatus other than what he had in his huge, barrel chest. For a small fee, Valvula agreed to take us out on his boat, warning that the underwater currents could be very strong and we’d have to be careful. He also told us to not to get our hopes up about seeing the sharks, as he’d rarely found them there. Jose Luis, a local who ran the dive shop on the island overheard us and asked if he could come too – he’d never had a chance to see this - and we said sure. I didn’t like the sound of dangerous currents, so having someone along with local diving experience sounded good.

I gathered up Steve and all our gear and we headed out with Jose Luis and Valvula in his little dorey. The surface was choppy but the turquoise water was so clear, we could see the ocean floor far below. Valvula dropped anchor, tied a net to his waist, pulled some flippers onto his feet, and jumped overboard, swimming quickly to the bottom. For an impossibly long time, we sat in the boat and watched him, holding his breath and paddling casually around the reef. Then he surfaced with two big lobsters in the net. He restarted the motor and we continued on.

The water got rougher and the boat was lurching when Valvula dropped anchor again and told us to follow him. He’d show us the cave, but warned us not to stay long because we might drift too far from the boat. It was too late to back out, so I pulled on my mask, flippers, weight belt and SCUBA tank and followed the others over the gunwale of the dorey. Fighting the current, we followed Valvula down, down, down to where the anchor wedged in the reef above the lip of an overhang. He curled below the ledge and quickly pointed, then he kicked back up to the surface and left us there. Lying ghostlike against the wall were two huge bull sharks. Jose Luis swam in closer and we followed. We touched the sharks. Touched them and felt their sandpaper skin. Other than the tips of their tails slightly rolling, the sharks sat perfectly motionless. It was astonishing.

Below 50 feet, divers can experience Nitrogen Narcosis, or “raptures of the deep” caused by breathing gases at high pressure. I could feel this “martini effect” as we drifted and paddled through the super-clear current and touched sleeping sharks. It’s risky to stay very long at that depth. I wandered… and then felt a sudden stab of panic when I looked around and my diving partners were gone. The buddy rule is one of the strictest codes for SCUBA divers – a diver is never left alone. But alone I was. The anchor rope was some distance away now. I looked up toward the surface and made an initial kick.

That’s when, from the corner of my mask, I spotted the large fan of a tail curving around behind me. I was being followed by a shark; what seemed to be an enormous shark. A shock of adrenalin buzzed from my fingers to my core and my vision narrowed to blackness for several seconds. There was no way to flee. I remembered hearing that divers ascending - like swimmers at the surface - resemble helpless fish to sharks and are more likely to be attacked. So I didn’t look back, but headed slowly down to the sandy floor and, as graceful and natural as I could pretend to be, I swam along the bottom like I lived there, with this large predator shadowing me, his snout close to my fins. The panic dissolved and I felt the peaceful calm that comes with knowing that one has absolutely no control of any outcome. I was a visitor and didn’t belong. And then, finally, the shark slowly swerved off to the right and disappeared.

Back in the boat, I confronted the guys for abandoning me. It wasn’t the current that had separated us. Jose Luis and Steve had seen the shark behind me, looked at each other, pointed to the surface, and got the hell out of there. They said they thought I was coming up, too. Maybe they did, or maybe they just didn’t want to be caught in the feeding frenzy. I remembered the statistic that a shark can detect a single drop of blood from a quarter mile away. My legs were still raw from washing up on fire coral the day before and I was menstruating.

As we headed back to shore, Valvula laughed nervously and told me I was lucky. He said it was a Tiger Shark. Tiger Sharks are responsible for more unprovoked attacks on humans than any other species besides the Great White. Jose Luis quickly added that they were lucky, too. We looked at Steve, who was quiet and avoided eye contact, like I often saw him do when he knew he was wrong but couldn’t admit it. Instead, Steve gazed at the horizon and then pointed and said, “Hey look, flying fish.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

our family in black and white

"My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," President Obama said. "All of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves." My husband and I are white and, when Trayvon was killed, our hearts broke for his parents and we thought of *our* son.

In 1990, as Peace Corps volunteers in Jamaica, we adopted our first child, our baby son, Nigel. Our Jamaican neighbors were confounded by the white people with the black Jamaican baby. Did we plan to keep him? Were there no white babies available? The man from the shop on the corner consoled me, saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll ‘clear up’ when you get him home,” as if dark skin was something that could be cleared up like a case of acne when we got back to the US. How could they think we wouldn’t be thrilled by this beautiful, chocolate colored baby?

We were rank amateurs at parenthood, and just learning to live in a new culture in a village on the north coast of Jamaica. Family in the US sent us a Care Package that included new-fangled baby bottles with disposable plastic bag inserts, baby toys (that the kids in Jamaica had never seen before) and Baby Care books by Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton, MD. While flipping through the books with the ladies on the corner, I wondered aloud why all the pictures in the book were of white babies. Straight faced, Ivy looked at me and said, “That’s because White people are the only ones who read books about how to raise children.” Later, when baby Nigel got a bad cold and couldn’t breathe, we tried the little nasal bulb syringe we got in our care package, but couldn’t get any suction in his big African nostrils. So my husband went to Ivy’s house to ask her for advice. He came home and said he found out what to do... he picked up Nigel, sealed his mouth over one nostril at a time and sucked out the snot, spitting it into the sink. That’s what I call bonding.

The ladies who lived behind us hung over the fence and giggled, watching my husband wash diapers by hand and hang them on the line. Folks teased me from doorways and corners, “Jacket baby!” A “jacket baby” means he wasn’t fathered by my husband. When they started to realize this wasn’t a joke, they decided we needed help. Then the advice started to flow and I made a list of 35 new rules: “Don’t cut his hair until he learns to talk or he will stutter, don’t cut his fingernails or he’ll become a thief, put something red in his hair to protect him from evil spirits, na pick him up every time he cry, mon, yu does spwoil im so! If he plays with his shadow, the duppies will follow him home. Wash out his mouth with a urine soaked diaper to prevent thrush.” We accepted all the advice respectfully.

Once I took Nigel to Hellshire Beach near Kingston when the fishermen had just brought in a catch. You could pick out a fish and some ladies in a big lean-to would cook it for you on the spot. Turning our fish over the fire, the woman watched me. “A fi yu pickney dat?” (Is that your baby?) I didn’t feel like having the adoption discussion, so I just answered, “Yes, he’s mine.” She looked at the lady next to her and remarked, “im fadda blood strong.”

The week before we left Jamaica, I had my picture taken with a line of 6 neighbor ladies, all of them in various stages of pregnancy. We had planned to produce a homemade baby to go with our imported one soon, but I didn’t realize until we got back to the US that I was also already a pregnant lady standing in that line. Our baby Olivia was born in New Mexico 7 months later.

When Nigel was a year old, we had gone back to the US and our family changed from being a "normal baby with white parents," to being "normal parents with a black baby."
While black folks in Albuquerque were never unfriendly to me, I now realized that out in public they also almost never *started* conversations with me before. I worried that African Americans would judge me as a “do-gooder, save the world” white parent out to save the world by adopting my black son. But I hardly ever got that response. When I went into the grocery store in Albuquerque with Nigel in the cart, the black guy standing by me in the produce section said innocuously, “These apples don’t look so good and look at that price!” Why did it surprise me that he spoke to me first? An older black lady scolded me, “You need to put socks and a hat on that baby. Black babies catch colds through their heads and through their feet.” She felt like, if she didn’t tell me this, who would?

Something else I noticed in grocery stores; with Nigel in the cart at the checkout stand, the clerk always asked for ID with my check. I wasn’t asked for my license when I was alone or with my white daughter. On future visits, I did a case/control study and proved it to be true; as a mixed race family, we were treated as though there was something dysfunctional and untrustworthy about us.

Nigel has always been a bubbly, friendly kid who trusts people. He identifies with African Americans but has friends of all colors. His white sister, from a young age, was attuned to any perceived racism. Picking out the furniture and family members to go in her doll house, she complained that the toy store didn’t have a little black boy doll to be her brother. Other white parents sometimes pretended not to notice the color of Nigel’s skin. Out on the soccer field, in identical uniforms, all the other little kids on his team that year were white or Hispanic. Another mom asked me, “is your son the taller one, in jersey #14?” I said yeah, he’s the black kid! She gave me an uncomfortable look. One of the most sincere expressions of privilege is to be able to choose to not see race.

By far the majority of the time, being a mixed race family is fun and rich; eye-opening in the best ways as well as the not so good ways. We never would have gotten to experience Black barbershops if it weren’t for Nigel. On Halloween at age 5 he wanted to be one of the Temptations, so we got him a huge Afro wig, a leisure suit and platform shoes and he rocked the Motown look. At 8, he asked to be Mr. T, and we put him in camo with layers of chains and shaved his head into a Mohawk to fulfill his request. In the park, we’d send Nigel to join a birthday party and he’d go get a hotdog and some cake, wearing a birthday hat, joining their photos. The parents would scan the park looking for his parents and we’d be sitting right there laughing.

Sometimes it was complicated. A teacher, maybe feeling some white guilt, would let Nigel get away with lower performance or bad behavior that she would never have allowed from the other kids. Then, when he didn’t improve, she might harden and overreact the other direction. There’s no way to prove that it was related to race. It’s not always about race. But you get a sense about when it is.

We see and hear things that black families don’t; the time a white co-worker talked about the fear he felt when he was stuck in an elevator with a black man. He wouldn't have told that story if any of the listeners were African American. The jokes white people tell, after looking over both shoulders to be sure there are no black people within hearing shot. People who know our family censor themselves in front of us now, too. I don’t like to admit that on road trips I always made Nigel stay in the car while I went into the hotel to ask if they had any rooms available. I know from experience that it made a difference in the answer.

Here is another story you wouldn’t hear from a black parent. Once in a store I saw a teenager – who happened to be black – stuff some merchandise into his coat and walk quickly out of the store. I ran to the customer service desk and said, “that kid just stole something!” Another customer (white) said to me, “Just because he’s black doesn’t mean he’s a thief.” I appreciated the sentiment, but I saw him do it, and here is what motivated me to snitch on him. I want that idiot teenager caught so he won’t do it again. Every black kid who becomes a criminal perpetuates and aggravates the stereotype that makes my kid continue to be seen and treated like a suspect.

I won’t ever know what it’s like to be black, but I have to teach my black son to be careful. Don’t cut through people’s backyards at night, don’t run from cops. Now he drives and gets stopped by the police all the time, but at least he’s learned to charm his way out of tickets.

So watching the George Zimmerman trial brought up a lot of emotions in me. Demonizing this unarmed teenager coming from the convenience store with candy and a soda… That 17 year old Trayvon – in that spontaneous instance – might have become so suddenly threatening that George Zimmerman had to shoot for his life? What evidence was presented that could excuse the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who – against police advice - began to stalk this kid with a gun? Trayvon must have seen him coming and was understandably – and reasonably - afraid for his life. Which one of them acted in self-defense? Travon could run, but he couldn't outrun a gun. Or he could fight back. The vigilante stalker was the credible one, apparently.

Nigel is 23 now; he loves hiphop, electronic music, Motown and the Beatles. He rolls his eyes at how we don’t get Black culture and sensibilities. He curls up with our dog to sing to her. He works in the grocery store and helps little old ladies load their groceries into their cars.

Sometimes I walk behind my big, friendly, peaceful son down the sidewalk, through a store or coming out of the movie theater and I can see the frightened, distrusting looks of people coming towards us. They don't have a clue that I’m with him, as I watch the security guards follow and interrogate him, I see the white woman shrink away, squeezing her purse to her side, the white parents pull their kids to the other side of the street.

How simple and comforting it must be to think it’s not about race anymore.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Dad's watch

When my dad was a young man, his big dream was to be a pilot. He joined the army during WWII, but was heartbroken to find out the astygmatism in his left eye disqualified him from flying. He became a helicopter mechanic during the war and did various kinds of mechanic work throughout his adult life. Then, in about 1964, he took private pilot lessons and - together with four other guys - bought a Cessna Piper Cub airplane. He was so excited! We took lots of trips in that plane, including one - our family of six in a four seat plane - from Santa Cruz, California to El Paso, TX, where my dad grew up.

A few months ago, when my dad passed away, my brother sent me a few of his things. I was touched to get his pocket knife, that I gave him as a gift about 40 years ago. He carried it every day. Also amongst his things was his Breitling Navitimer watch! I remember being mesmerised by this watch when I was little. I think he bought it around the same time as he got the Cessna.

It seems to be in beautiful condition, though it isn't running and one of the sub-clock hands fell off and is loose on the face. I want to take it to a local watch repairman who specializes in vintage watches to have him clean, oil and repair it. I am curious to see the serial number inside the case, too. From pictures, it looks to me like an original mid 50s Navitimer, though he didn't buy it until later.
Anything anyone can tell me about this watch (pictured) I would love to hear.

Do I have the rare Navitimer with Valjoux 72 movement? Will find out when the watch repairperson opens the back!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I was running an errand in the NE Heights yesterday when, without even thinking about it, I pulled over and ended up in the Beaded Iris Bead Store. I’d never been in a place like this before; Beads everywhere! Mounded in baskets, rows of plastic tubes organized by color, and hanging from the wall in thick ropes of many strands. The lady asked if she could help me, but I’m sure she saw that newbie look in my eyes and it seemed to worry her.

So I decided I did need some beads, but I didn’t have a specific plan. First I collected an assortment of colors in plastic tubes, then I put them back. I decided on bigger beads that came in strands – earth colors instead of the bright ones in the tubes – and then changed my mind again. The lady handed me a straw basket and helpfully offered to put things back for me (she probably figured I was putting them back wrong, which would be a real nightmare in this place). Then she went back to the counter and fell back into bead lingo with the other bead lady. This bead store was different from, but similar in ways, to the yarn store with the yarn ladies (see my previous story, "A Yarn Yarn" posted on Oct. 31, 2008).
Again, I kind of wanted to belong; but not too much.

After my third question that was stupid, “Why does the price tag say $3 on one side and $10 on the other side?” (Turns out $3 is the price and #10 is the size of the beads), and my second question that made the bead lady uncomfortable, “Do you have any skull beads?,” she decided to just leave me to shop by myself.

Until she heard that sickening sound: POIK! skudder skudder skudder – a rope of bead strands exploding in my hand sending millions of tiny beads flying behind the wall racks and all over the floor. I apologized, but I didn’t offer to pick them up, so sue me. I decided it was probably best to go on ahead and finalize my purchases and get the hell out of there.

But on my way to the register, I thought of something else. “Do you have thread or something to string these beads?” Duh; a whole wall of string, line, thread and wire in a hundred sizes. She answered me in a different language so I just grabbed some white thread and then asked, “Do people use needles to string beads?” Back in the hippy days we just used fishing line which was stiff enough that you didn’t need a needle to string beads.

She looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you want twisted wire needles or English beading needles? What gauge and length?” Okay, now she was just fucking with me. “I think short needles with a large eye,” I said, which I thought sounded good for a beginner. Tubes of beads, thread and needles and, $76 later, I was out the door and discovered a little Thai restaurant next door. Mentally exhausted, I ducked in there and ordered a beer and some vegetable curry.

I spread my purchases out on the table and opened the intricately wrapped packet of needles, which were microscopic and seemed to be pointed on both ends, until I held one far enough away from my eyes to see that there was actually an eye on one end. Finally got it threaded, when the waitress brought my cold beer, curry and a bowl of white rice. Ate a couple spoons of rice while waiting for the curry to cool, then – how to get the cap off this tube of beads? Using my teeth it came off suddenly, filling my mouth with blue beads. The waitress showed up in time to see me spitting blue and white rice into my hand. (Later the cook peered at me from around the kitchen door, so the waitress must have told him) I swallowed some of beads; had no choice.

Carefully, I poured little piles of each color of beads on the table and started to string them. This is fun! Until the waitress set a bottle of hot sauce on my table and the beads shot everywhere. I can’t handle these tiny beads! I still had a lot left, but my little piles were now scattered all over the carpet. A bus boy came by with a carpet sweeper, but the beads just scampered in front of the vacuum and spread out even more. They’ll never get them up that way. I thought for a minute about suggesting they go talk to the bead lady next door, who probably knows all about the best way to clean up spilled beads. But for some reason I didn’t want the bead ladies to know what I had done.

Left a good tip and headed back out into the hot afternoon to finish my errands in the Heights. Last night I dreamed that I made intricate beaded Rasta hats and sold them in a European open air market.

It was only a dream.