Family, Grief, Latino family tradition, Memoir, Mothers, poetry, Strong Women, Travel

Hurricane Mom – Memoir, Part 3

Poem to Mother by Sharon Doubiago
Poem to Mother by Sharon Doubiago


Day’s flutter pass like wind blown pages of a book, occasionally landing on a chapter of happiness or sorrow.

Mom’s children leave. Each daughter marries. The hours spent on them are now hours gained to contemplate middle age, not that anyone would guess she was in her mid-life, nor would she correct them.

Grandchildren come into the world as her oldest siblings depart. Men of integrity, courage, and tradition. Orphan men who provided for siblings survived the Great Depression, and wars. Men who married young sweethearts, raised families, and weathered changing times.

The winds of life blow with the ferocity only death can bring. Mom’s brothers died soon after retirement, ravaged by cancer, the affliction of her parents. Their departure like uprooted trees in the landscape of her life.

Her career becomes her greatest pleasure, counseling the unemployed, connecting people with goals, encouraging youth, instilling hope. Evenings filled with meetings, groups of various acronyms, with one purpose: equality. Now there is a community pool, educational centers, and non-profit organizations serving people.

The pages keep turning. There is no slowdown in mid-life. Mom worked until 67, left after a mass shooting at her state office left co-workers dead, injured. Left her with post-traumatic syndrome. She thought about going back to college, for her Master’s degree, but serves on the Grand Jury instead.

Wanderlust struck. So much life, so much to live for. Egypt, Jordan, places we can no longer visit, were first on the agenda. Spain, Portugal, Canada, France, England, Mexico, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, and half of the United States. Places visited in books of her youth or on TV.

She rescues working daughters, son, and walks grandkids to school, makes them snacks, watches them grow. Her home is open to her children when troubles strike. None of us ever go it alone.

Mom’s life temporarily shuts down when her youngest sister died, the one she protected, the one who helped her through every pothole in the journey. Cancer. Again. A light went out, brightness dimmed. The absence of phone calls, trips to casinos, shopping, laughing with her sister leave Mom depressed for two years.

Her eyesight dims like her joy. A prognosis of legal blindness curtails her driving, her independence and link to distant friends and extended family. Worse, it’s difficult to read.

Now family reunions take place in her dreams, between recurring nightmares. Pain fades, aches remain, good times are remembered, wistful visits to previous chapters of life.

The first great-grandchild is born, many grand nieces/nephews, celebrations of sacraments, birthdays, milestones. Tortillas, turkey, tamales, everything celebrated with food and family, traditions kept alive.

And the pages turn.



Thank you for reading.

Click here for part 1 and 2 of “Hurricane Mom.”


Books, Female Offenders, Memoir, Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman, Television shows on prison, Women in Prison, Writing

Orange is the New Black-Redux

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A couple of years ago a friend suggested I read the memoir, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, when she found out my novel in progress (STRONG WOMEN GROW HERE) is about a young woman in prison. 

Aside from the clever title, I didn’t find much to pay attention to when I read the first few chapters. Never finished the book. 

OITNB received an average rating of 3.5, on Amazon, by 189 reviewers. 

One reviewer put it this way:

“The book could have easily been condensed to nine pages:

Page 1 — I’m blonde.
Page 2 — I’m white.
Page 3 — I’m privileged.
Page 4 — I went to Smith.
Page 5 — I’m better than you.
Page 6 — I’m well liked.
Page 7 — I can’t believe I am in prison.
Page 8 — I need to mention again that I am white, blonde and went to Smith.
Page 9 — I deserve a movie option on my book.”

The protagonist in my novel has none of these privileges. She is seventeen, dark haired, an immigrant, uneducated, has a baby, was a wife, and innocent (well, almost).

My daughter is an OITNB devotee and described the Netflix series in much more favorable terms than the book reviewers on Amazon or what I recalled in the memoir. 

This peaked my interest as usually the book is better than the screen version.

So last night I decided to watch OITNB and find out how an  ‘average’ memoir ended up receiving the coveted movie option (Page 9).

I didn’t intend to watch past the first episode, but I was pulled into the story so quickly that I had to watch more. I spent six hours watching six episodes on my Kindle Fire and would have watched the seventh episode, but I had a neck ache.

So how is it that this memoir by Piper Kerman found its way to become a Netflix series?

Created by WEEDS writer Jenji Kohan, she and writer Marco Ramirez converted Kerman’s novel into dramedy, blending dramatic moments with comedy. The novel became a launching pad for television writers who took the characters and made us care about them enough to want to know what happens to them next. It is OISTNB redux.

The character’s backstories, intermingled throughout the episodes, show us their motivations, what drives them, their truths, and ultimately we care about them enough to watch an episode after episode. 

OITNB-the Netflix version, does what readers want from a great book. 

Writers have to make the reader care enough about the characters in the story to keep reading. 

Readers want to see how or if the character changes and what is the outcome. It doesn’t matter too much if they are in prison or in an English countryside. 

What matters is whether the writer can sweep the reader into the story to the end. There is no doubt that the Netflix series does just that. 

An Unquenchable Thirst, Faith, Mary Johnson, Memoir, Mother Teresa, Roman Catholics, Strong Women

Review: An Unquenchable Thirst

One of my all time pleasures is reading. Lots of books, usually two or three at the same time. I’ve been called a bookworm, bookhound, and bibliophile. 

I would call myself a bookinista-you know like fashionista. But I thought of a Spanglish term, a hybrid of “book,” and “conquista,” hence booquista, or book conqueror. 

I read to momentarily escape from my world, learn about other cultures, societies, or to see things from another point of view. 

Last month I had the pleasure of hearing Mary Johnson read selections from her book AN UNQUENCHABLE THIRST: A Memoir, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. 

I wanted to read this book because I was born and raised a Catholic during the 60’s/70’s. I attended Catholic elementary and high school. When I was around nine years old, I contemplated becoming a nun. That went out the door when I turned twelve.

I was also curious about Mother Teresa and her missionary nuns. The curiosity about cloistered life was a big draw. 

When I was a kid I thought all nuns were like my grammar school principal, Sister John Bosco, who carried a yardstick with her at all times and was OCD about clean chalkboards. 

I never thought about how nuns dealt with their humanness or feelings of sexuality, until Sister Rose Marie ran away with Brother Peter, the Dean of Boys at my high school.

But back to the book. At seventeen, Mary felt a calling when she saw a photo of Mother Teresa on the cover of Time magazine-18 months later (Summer of 1977) she began training as a Missionary of Charity, a nun in Mother Teresa’s order. 

The story has been described as a spiritual memoir and a feminist coming of age memoir.

Mary recounts her experiences as a teenager, young adult, and mature woman facing the challenges of living an austere life of poverty, chastity, and service. It takes a strong woman to serve under those conditions, ones she freely took, but persevered. After 20 years of service she leaves the Catholic Church to find her own path. It takes a strong woman to leave when your convictions guide you to do so. 

This is not “The Singing Nun,” or just a diary of a woman in a religious community. Her story goes deeper, into the culture of this particular order and her responses to her experiences. This is about her own spiritual development, faltering, doubt, hope and faith. 

You may have heard that the book has been calledanti-Catholic,’ negative, shocking.  

I didn’t see it as anti-Catholic. It was Mary Johnson’s experiences with pre-Vatican II dogma that she questioned. Heck (you know I wanted to say He**, but I still remember the yardstick). I questioned that a lot too, doesn’t make me anti-Catholic. 

Yes there are some experiences that surprised me (falling in love, stalked by a sexual predator subordinate, self-flagellation). But these are precisely the things that show the woman behind the blue and white sari. She speaks of these issues with candor and empathy, not as melodrama. 

The memoir reads as a novel, it’s intimate, descriptive, and intriguing. The insights into the political ‘party’ of Rome, the interactions with the other nuns and the townspeople they served, and the insider knowledge of Mother Teresa herself was very engaging. 

If you love reading well written insightful memoirs that give you a peek into other societies you will find this book enthralling. 


Author Sonia Sotomayor, Book Review, Books, first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Latino culture, life lessons, Memoir, My Beloved World, Strength, Strong Women, Wisdom

Lessons from Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World

The Honorable Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been on several television programs this last month and it’s not for any Supreme Court hearing. It’s because of her memoir, “My Beloved World,” which has garnered much praise and is the Amazon Book of the Month for January 2013. 

Much of the attention to the book may be because she is the first Latina Chief Justice and the third woman appointed to the Supreme Court. That’s certainly a draw, but not the only reason I selected her memoir to read. 

I was drawn to order the book because I knew there had to be a story of a struggle, tenacity, and spirit in her story. 

Someone doesn’t become the first Latina or  a woman judge, CEO, astronaut, or any other distinguishable career choice without more than a few bumps in the road. I was interested in reading about the journey on that bumpy road from the slums to the Supreme Court.

Like many readers, the stories that resonate with me are about people who suffer a loss, endure hardships, and rise to survive and thrive with courage and strength. This memoir certainly fit this description.

Ms. Sotomayor’s candid memoir concentrates on her childhood, college years, and life before she became a federal judge in 1992 and Supreme Court Justice in 2007. 

I found the first half of the book, about her childhood and teen years, the most engaging. A few life lessons stood out which made the lengthy book a pleasure to read. 


  1. Self reliance.

Her diabetes required insulin shots several times a day,(in an era without disposable syringes). Her father, an alcoholic, couldn’t be relied upon and her mother was overburdened. “To my family the disease was a deadly curse…my parents couldn’t pick up a syringe without panicking…” So she learned how to do this herself at age eight.

   2. Value family and culture.

Her Abuelita was a huge presence in her life, as well as her aunts, uncles and cousins. She often returned to Puerto Rico to visit relatives. Her grandmothers family parties always featured Puerto Rican dishes, Spanish music, and poetry.

She took numerous classes to learn more about Puerto Rico and even wrote her thesis about it. In her dedication she wrote, “To my family, for you have given me my Puerto Rican-ness.”

   3. Do your best and then try harder.

Education was important to her mother, who worked extra shifts to place her in Catholic school. “Discipline was what made Catholic school a good investment in my mothers eyes…discipline was virtually an eighth sacrament.”

   4. Expand your horizons.

Books were Ms. Sotomayor’s introduction into another world. The summer after her father’s death, nine year old Sonia spent everyday in the public library reading the stories of Greek gods and heroes. Her mother bought the Encyclopedia Britannica (as did my own mother) from a door to door salesman. “I found myself wandering the world’s geography, pondering molecules like daisy chains…the world branched our before me in a thousand directions…” 

Not every effort to  expand her horizons were as welcome as books. “Ballet class was a brief torture…Piano wasn’t much better…Guitar lessons…the worst of all. The real problem was getting there and back through a neighborhood..where a gang of taunting bullies made clear Puerto Rican kids were not welcome. I got smacked…”

    5. Find role models.

Television doesn’t usually bring to mind role models, but for Ms. Sotomayor Perry Mason, the defense attorney and Burger, the prosecuting attorney were her heroes. “…I liked that he was a good loser, that he was more committed to finding the truth than to winning his case.” She paid more attention to the judge on the show. “…it was the judge who fascinated me. A minimal, but vital presence,…a personification of justice…it was the judge who called the shots.”

Her mother, who returned to school after her husbands death to become a nurse, taught her “…a surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence.”

   6. Seek to understand.

Poverty, her fathers alcoholism, her mother’s emotional detachment, racism and divorce played a part in her early life, but the reader finds that Ms. Sotomayor seeks to understand others instead of being a judge (no pun intended). 

Besides the tough childhood, strenuous college and beginning years in law, the Chief Justice also divulges that she enjoys parties, asks for hugs, was a three and a half pack a day smoker, and is a “pretty good poker player… I do win regularly among my friends. I don’t think they let me win.”  

It is no wonder that Ms. Sotomayor has this plaque on her office door:

The plaque says it all, but read the book to see how she made history.