gaily’s daily

epic & everyday stories of identity and illumination


photos & collage by gaily told•tales




Ash Friday: one extra order of iced tea, please

part 3 of 3 in the series “Dementia Summer” / (part 1  & part 2)


“There must be someplace in New York City where he’d want his ashes sprinkled?”

“Scattered,”I tell my son. “You scatter ashes. And, no, I don’t think there’s anywhere he’d have chosen in New York. He liked to visit, but he didn’t want to live here.”

My children are off from school this early-autumn late Friday morning and we’re going to fill it with purposeful errands. When we step into our entryway, however, I trip immediately over the package that FedEx has dropped for us there. Yellow tape screams HUMAN REMAINS across the front, and the return address of Angel Valley leaves no mystery about what’s inside. I snatch up the box by reflex, though it’s pointless to try to hide it from my kids. One is 9, one is 8, both notice everything.

“That’s him in there,” my son says. READ MORE »

locked gates, open road & Harriet Tubman’s Home for the Aged

IMG_6596 (4)


part 2 of 3 in the series “Dementia Summer” /  (part 1  & part 3)

It turns out that the final stage of Harriet Tubman’s revolutionary life was dedicated to building and running a “Home for the Aged”, a nursing home, just outside of her own house in Auburn, NY.

We were struck by this just today, when we finally made the trip there. Going to see Harriet Tubman’s home was a pilgrimage planned long ago by my mother and my children, who were then in preschool, one morning when they’d looked up to see a 13’ bronze Harriet Tubman gliding on the end of a crane, over the pedestal of a new monument being built to her.  It seemed from below like she was running across the sky, toward the North Star itself.  My daughter was awe-struck, and ever since obsessed with anything related to Harriet Tubman’s life.  As she’s Afro-Latina and adopted, my daughter is keenly aware of her stake in this legacy and we’ve been keen to keep that connection strong.  We knew that the house was 5 hours northwest of us and we planned to see it, as soon as possible; we didn’t make it, however, for years.  Due to my father’s worsening dementia, my mother hadn’t been free to go anywhere, let alone to undertake this important trip. When he was recently moved into his own nursing home, a residential facility for Alzheimer’s, my mother, in many ways, regained her freedom.  The first thing she did was to put a date on the calendar to travel with us to Harriet Tubman’s house.


my dementia Clementine: a song before it fades away


memory gene


part 1 of 3 in the series “Dementia Summer” / (part 2 & part 3)

“In da-DA-dum, DA-dum canyon,” my father sings.  Actually, he is humming, not singing.  “Exca-dum-dum for a mine.”  My kids are shocked that his song is such a dreary one and that the words are mumbled.

We’ve spent summers with my father for 9 years, my children’s whole lives, as he’s sunk ever deeper into dementia. Throughout those summers, music — brassy, Broadway, lung-topping music — has been the way into his world.  My kids would pull out DVDs and sing show tunes with him for hours because that’s what was left to latch onto.  When my father no longer remembered legislative language or political strategy, and then when he didn’t remember my kids’ names, and then sometimes didn’t remember his own, he still could manage a complicated chorus from West Side Story  And when things were good he’d sing something like, “Everything’s coming up roses!”  Through “Lions and tigers and bears!” and the like, he could communicate fear.  When all else failed, he’d lead booming marches through the kitchen with his cane, my kids screaming with laughter behind him.

This summer we’ve come here, to my birthplace in the Arizona desert, in order to move my father out of his house and into a nursing home.  READ MORE »

letting our story soar

26 lookingoutwindow


the following piece was originally run in Adoptive Families magazine, Spring 2015 issue:

Last year, my daughter and I discovered that we had created a book together. READ MORE »

pianos are not people


© gaily told-tales, “piano 1”

A downside to raising kids in New York City: my son is getting so good at his piano lessons, appreciating them so much, yet it seems impossible to manage to bring home a real piano for him to practice on.  Our space is so limited, things are so expensive here, everywhere would require such a complicated move, it just — can’t — work.

An even more important upside to raising kids in New York City:  suddenly there appears in our lives a magical well-kept secret of a solution.  In this case it’s a website, full of beautifully random New York-specific piano possibilities.  It yields, when least expected, a proudly upright Knabe, standing extra tall and obviously crafted in the era when pianos were crafted; a number, lovingly carved into its heart, tells us that it was made 100 years ago exactly, in 1914.  It’s offered free of charge, a gift from the Society for Ethical Culture, where it’s been housed in an airy salon over Central Park for who knows how long.  It still holds a tune.  The soundboard, on careful inspection, has some cracks but none that cause (too much) dissonant buzz.  It’s lived a life — Knabe made pianos for the Met 100 years ago, we’re told — and it’s ready for a new, loving home.  We are delighted to provide that home.

The New York dilemma solved, a new downside presents itself:  the magical website with the 100-year-old piano is called, and what we are doing then is called piano adoption.


teaching cancer to cry

Ezra & snow

gaily told•tales

Today was the first snowy day of winter, a magical dusky dusting over Harlem.  It was the first chilly-air, Christmasy day; I was reminded by all of this that it was two years ago exactly, on a similar snowy December evening, that Ezra sat in our dining room and told us that he wouldn’t be seeking treatment for the metastatic malignancy that had been found on his liver.  He said that his goal was to live to turn 40.  He was, that same week, turning 39.

And it was the next winter, one year ago exactly — less snowy but still the dark part of December — that we then sat in Ezra’s dining room, (really his mother’s dining room, down the street from his), laughing and drinking and toasting a lot.  Ezra looked frail by then.  He was shaky, but his eyes were still shiny and his jokes still smart, and he led each of us to a spare room, one by one, to take what he hoped would turn into a portrait series of his friends and family, on the occasion of his birthday.  We were celebrating that he’d made it to 40. READ MORE »

biology 101: on eating meat & raising children


©gaily told•tales

The last time I ate meat, I was 17.

By the side of an interstate, I watched a cow family nuzzling and kissing, and that was the push I needed away from eating flesh. For most of those years, I was ovo-lacto; I ate eggs and dairy because those were things I could get for myself from the source without getting (too) queasy.  I could theoretically milk a cow, I could definitely gather eggs.  I could not face the biological reality of killing an animal.  And, (though I never actually did milk any cows or gather any eggs), that’s how I thought for two and a half decades.  When I did change, it was to full-on vegan, for deeply held reasons of health, environmental concern, morality — and — because meat was just gross. Vegans were my people!  Moving away from eating animals felt, indeed, like I’d found my identity, a little bit in the earth and a lot in the ether, not so much in the gory junk in between. I didn’t expect, then, that I’d stop being a vegan, and I didn’t expect that a parenting crossroads would have me sitting here now, contemplating a headless chicken and the ways to cook it for my dinner. READ MORE »

dipping one toe in



photo by gaily told•tales

The Salton Sea, smack in the middle of the hottest part of the Colorado Desert, Coachella Valley, California.

It sparkles like a diamond of an oasis.  While the sun is beating down mercilessly around it, the Salton Sea’s cool, glistening waters are implausibly close on the horizon.  “This is going to be amazing,” you think to yourself, as you get closer to the water, and the heat burns into your skin.   It’s not a mirage, not even one of those “man-made lakes” that dot the southwestern desert.  This, the signs and the map confirm, is no less than a SEA, like the Mediterranean or the Adriatic. How can something this beautifully vast and blue not feel like a miracle when you’re driving through the desert on a sweltering 110-degree day?

The answer to that question: dead, rotting fish.  Everywhere, and with increasing frequency. READ MORE »

no rest from race: one white parent’s summer vacation (pt. 1)

photo by gaily told•tales

What do white adoptive parents say to their black child when events like those in Ferguson, Missouri are playing out?  Soberingly, my children, like many children, are already too well-versed in these conversations with us, from the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial to Jordan Davis’s murder in his parked car.  We have gone out of our way to shield them from the latest story of African-American kids shot to death by white adults… and then a random taxi screen or a thumbnail on a website catches their attention and we’ve found ourselves scrambling to explain.  We’ve searched online for the right words, emailed non-white friends and experts for perspective, sit down with our children to tell them our painstaking takes on unsparing truths, hoping that we are getting it right.

This summer, though, we have been on a self-imposed exile in the Sonora Desert and so, when the news first started trickling in about Michael Brown’s death and the growing protests in his neighborhood, we didn’t scramble as we had in the past.  Could there be even more to say than the words we’d already put together to explain about Trayvon Martin, about Jordan Davis?, wasn’t it enough that we’d already had to break the news of life’s breathtaking imbalances and racial disparities?  Couldn’t we just coast along like desert millipedes and watch the gorgeous sunsets and revisit this on another day, at another time?  That is, after all, what privilege allows. READ MORE »

unpacking the basket

photo by gaily told•tales, 2014

photo by gaily told•tales

the post below is a reprint of an article which appeared in Adoption Today magazine [] under the title of “A Basket of Answers” in 2013.  It was originally written as a love letter to the adoptive families group of which we were a part.