Category Archives: Travel

I Left My Wallet in San Francisco


In visiting the Bay Area this week I am quickly reminded of one of my least favorite experiences of big City living — hemorraging cash.  I enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle here — but not an extravagant one by any means — and at the same time was never able to save as much money as I should have, as I would have liked.  I left my wallet, not my heart, in San Francisco.  Here what’s I’m talking about.

Last night I popped into Tacobar on Fillmore Street to grab dinner for me and Mom.  For some reason, the location’s name leads me to believe it will be inexpensive.  Prices don’t appear on the menu board but how much can a burrito cost?  Plus, I have like 30 bucks on me so I should be good.  I order an avocado salad, tortilla soup, side orders of rice, beans and guacamole, chips and salsa and a tiny cup of sangria.  The total is $34.  Really?  I’m basically ordering soup, salad and sides.  Humph.  I decide to enjoy the sangria instead of the chips thereby managing to afford our $31 dinner.

This morning I visited my favorite yoga studio, Urban Flow Yoga, and used a massage gift certificate I purchased before moving to Panama.  Here is the price I pay:

$6 Golden Gate Bridge toll

$4 parking near yoga studio

$16 for Rusty’s yoga class; he offers *yoga by donation* and $16 is the lowest donation amount for folks wanting to register online in advance

$14 parking in Nob Hill

$10 gratuity for massage therapist

I’m out 50 bucks and all I did was go to yoga and use a gift certificate.

On the way home, I think about stopping by La Boulange to enjoy their delicious $12 Nicoise salad.  But I feel broke.  Plus, I spent most of my healthy food budget yesterday at the pricey Marin’s Farmer’s Market.  So I head home to eat leftovers and make juice from my fresh produce instead.

While traveling I’ve been present to missing Billy, Sammy and The Maven very much.  Turns out I also miss Panama’s relatively low cost of living.

A Call for Help


Like many of you, I have been filled with a lot of sadness over the past few days due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre.  Since I’m visiting the United States, I’m present to the conversations here, most of them about much-needed gun control, how to cope with grief, and questions about why this happened, who is to blame.

One topic that we don’t discuss enough is mental illness.  As someone who has suffered from depression in the past, I have felt the stigma of disease, of feeling embarrassed or shamed to ask for help, even after I was courageous enough to admit that I needed it.

Here is one mother’s story about living with and loving a son with mental illness.  I am grateful for her transparency and hope her words, along with current events, spur further dialogue here.


I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother: It’s Time to Talk About Mental Illness

Friday’s horrific national tragedy—the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut—has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”

“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”

That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.

“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”

“You know where we are going,” I replied.

“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”

I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”

Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.

The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork—“Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”

At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

For days, my son insisted that I was lying—that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”

By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am James Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

(Originally published at The Anarchist Soccer Mom.)

liza long is an author, musician, and erstwhile classicist. she is also a single mother of four bright, loved children, one of whom has special needs.

Eventually Leaving Las Vegas


Last week I flew non-stop from Panama to Las Vegas to attend a conference.  The departure time for my non-stop flight was great; I left Panama around 9:00 am and arrived in Vegas around 2:00 pm.  On the way home, however, I’m not as lucky.  In order to fly non-stop again, I can’t leave Vegas until 5:00 am Monday morning, which is like the wee hours of Sunday night.  When I wake up Sunday morning, I’m not sure how I’ll kill 19 hour after checking out of the hotel.  For party-goers, Vegas is the easiest place on earth to stay entertained.  For Old Lady Laura, it’s a bit harder.

10:00 am
Michelle and I leave the hotel via shuttle. A Spanish-speaking male tries to board at the next stop; unfortunately, he needs the shuttle to Los Angeles and we’re only going to The Strip.  Driver tries to explain to him that he is in the wrong place but fails to communicate in English and asks anyone if they speak Spanish.  A woman in the front row starts to help.  I decide to interject from the third row declaring, “I’m from Panama.  I can handle this.”

“See-nior,” I say in my worst Spanish accent, “wrong-o bus-o.”  For some reason, he understands exactly what I’m saying.*

10:30 am
Michelle and I arrive at the Wynn’s amazing buffet.  Michelle tells the server she has a food allergy (gluten) and a cute, young chef meets her at the salad bar for a personal tour of all gluten-free options.  She orders GF pancakes and is offered GF bread from the back.  Special treatment is nice!

11:45 am

Michelle and I arrive at the Canyon Ranch Spa at the Palazzo.  I get a manicure and brow wax and she gets a pedicure.  Both of us overpay for our services.

1:30 pm

Michelle departs for the airport.  I am sad to see my sister go since our time here together was quite short — only about a day and a half.  I look forward to seeing her again in December.

1:32 pm
Time to get my spa on!  Spas are one of my favorite places; I’ve been to a number of them, including the *real* Canyon Ranch in Tucson, so I kind of know what to do with myself here.  Between showering, hot-tubbing, cold-plunging, steaming and meditating in the aromatherapy chamber, I kill three hours without peeking at the clock.  In the spacious and comfortable lounge, I fall asleep reading Conde Nast Traveler dreaming about my next vacation.  A bit later, I wake up with a little bit of drool at the side of my mouth.  Too bad the lounge is co-ed but good thing it’s dark in here.

5:00 pm
Head to the outdoor pool where I eat my complimentary spa orange.  I think about going into the hot tub but it’s kind of packed so I return to the sanctity of the women’s spa lounge.  On the way, I stop at one of the 2 stores, chat about favorite beauty products with the attendant, and buy pricey vitamin C facial cream.  At the register, a book called “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food” catches my eye.  After a week of over-consumption and quick weigh-in on spa scale, I really feel I need this author’s advice and buy the book.

6:05 pm

Take another shower and get dressed.  Since I checked my suitcase in at the hotel downstairs and forgot to bring a change of underwear, I have to do the underwear inside-out trick.  I know — kind of gross, but it’s either this or go without.

7:00 pm

Jump onto wifi in the spa lobby, check in for my flight, and read email.  I think about reading my new book but I’m actually really hungry.  Off to get more food!

8:30 pm

Arrive at upscale Mexican restaurant in Palazzo Shops.  I sit near the pretty, man made canal and listen to gondola drivers serenade tourists with “That’s Amore” and the “fuli-culi-culi-culi-fuli-culi-culi-cula” song.  I enjoy homemade tortilla chips, fresh salsa, and tasty enchiladas — until I see the bill and realize they charged me 3 bucks for chips the server offered.  Yes, I just spent $50 a manicure but I don’t want to pay $3 for something that’s customarily included.  I complain to the waiter and then the manager who removes the charge from my bill.

9:30 pm
I walk around Palazzo shops then follow signs outside leading to Sephora.  After the spa, Sephora is the happiest place on earth for.  I make friends with a woman working there after she tells me the sample lipstick I just tried looks great on me.  I buy Lip Tar, super sharp Tweezerman’s to keep my brows in shape, and a bunch of other stuff I want but don’t really need.

11:30 pm

I decide to pick up my suitcase but arrive at the wrong hotel.  After 12 minutes of searching for my bag, the attendant realizes my error and sends me from the Venetian back to the Palazzo.  I walk what should be a short distance next door.  In reality its like a mile since I have to maneuver through the entire casino, then down a long hallway, down stairs, up and over the outdoor walkway and then down again.  With my 10-pound laptop in my backpack, I start to feel exhausted.

12:15 pm

I’m done.  Rather than head to a nightclub and party the night away, I decide to head to the airport.  The Copa counter doesn’t open until 1:30 am so I have no choice but to wait in the non-carpeted check-in area.  I watch 2 episodes of Damages on Netflix and fall asleep on the cold floor with my legs propped on my suitcase.

2:30 am

I wake up — no drool this time — to find a really long line at the Copa counter.  Before I’ve even reached home, I’m welcomed back to my country by a couple of people — a younger girl and an older woman — trying to jump the line in front of me.  They don’t know I’m at my worst without sleep; behind me they quickly go.

4:00 am

My flight starts to board.  I look forward to getting sleep on the plane but am seated next to a man who snores the whole time.  At one point his snoring gets even louder.  Before gently whacking him with my airline pillow, I look around to see if it’s bothering anyone else.  The woman behind him, likely his wife, has a huge grin on her face, like she thinks it’s cute or funny or something.  I’m clearly not amused and she gently taps him on the head from behind to wake him up.

2:20 pm

I arrive in Panama with a 3-hour time change.  After a very long day, I am happy to be home.

*I’m kidding.  As much as I wanted to flaunt my Panamanian pride, I kept my mouth shut on the shuttle.

In-n-Out Beach Burger


Today I had a chance to leave the City and visit Isla Grande beach off the coast of Colon for the first time. Since my downstairs neighbors Don and Gloria were taking their granddaughter and 2 other family members, I decided to tag along. For additional fun, I invited nephews Stuart and Rueben who are visiting from San Diego.

After a bit of a late start, we drive about an hour and stop first in Portabelo. We pop into a church, where parishioners are attending Sunday services, to see the famous life-sized effigy of the Nazareno of Portobelo, better known as the Black Christ. Town members have been caring for and adorning this statute since the 17th Century. Pretty cool. As we continue walking through town we pass a house with a rather large monkey chained to the front balcony. Turns out I’m kind of a sucker for monkeys — and hope to have one of my very own one day — so I stop and try to make friends with Chalisco. He’s nice enough a first, but our friendship is a short one. Once I get up the courage to touch him and shake his very human-like little hand, he steals my bracelet. The owner’s friend tries to get it back for me but fails. Luckily, it’s a cheepy accessory from Forever 21 so I’m happy to let Chalisco keep it as a toy.

Next we drive another hour, leave our cars and take a power boat ride to the island. Three hours past our departure time, we finally arrive at the beach! Nephews and I take an extra 15 minutes place a to-go order of Corvina y patacones. I’m eager to bathe in the warm Atlantic water so I quickly eat part of my fried fish meal and save the rest for later. “I’m heading in,” I say to my nephews as I leave them behind; I’m tired of waiting so I cruise on ahead across the sand.After a few minutes, Stuart joins me and then Reuben. We swim around on our own and then meet up with the others. When I decide to take a rest in the sun, I march out of the water to our table on the beach, leaving the entire group behind. After a short rest, I head back in, swim around a bit more and then decide to get out again. This time, as I emerge from the water, Gloria approaches me. “Is that how your suit is designed?” she asks. I don’t know what she’s talking about and thinks she’s simply trying to tell me my tag is sticking out. To my total embarrassment, she is NOT referring to my tag but to a giant tear in swimsuit bottom. As I feel around, I can tell there’s a huge whole, about 6 inches long, plenty big for everyone else on the beach to see, including my nephews and the group of 6 hanging out on the beach right next to us. “Oh my god! Why didn’t any tell me before?” I shriek as I hold the whole closed with one hand and dig through my bag for my shorts with the other. Stuart runs up to me as I hide behind a tree to avoid further embarrassment. In a hush voice he tells me and Reuben noticed the whole when I first headed into the water after lunch – like a full hour before. Their conversation included the following statements: 1) Is her suit supposed to be like that? 2) Should we tell her? 3) No, of course she knows. How could she not know? 4) Maybe that’s the style. 5) Aunt Laura is bold. 6) Yeah, but if it were in the front, I don’t think we could hang out with Aunt Laura anymore.

No, Gloria was not the first to notice — she was just the first to let me know that my crack was on display. I could have been wearing a thong and experienced less embarrassment; an out burger is more acceptable than being able to peek at one’s in burger any day.