Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I have a dog. She is approximately 6 inches long and 6 inches high. She weighs 3 pounds, seldom barks and is trained to use paper when we can't go outside.  Her favorite way to get around is to have me carry her in a black handbag that was built for carrying small dogs. It has a bone-shaped black mesh "window" and a clip to fasten to her harness. We also have a regulation soft-sided carrier so she can scoot under the seat on an airplane.
An airplane. Huh.  Take a dog with you on the plane?  Only if you are willing to pledge your first-born and all your back teeth and you are in a country where they aren't terrified of dogs.  Buses?  The buses want you to put your innocent little baby in the belly with the luggage and the heat and the fumes.  This seems to be especially true in countries that were once notorious for having live chickens in with the passengers.
I have smuggled her onto buses. And got caught at the other end, too. No return trip.  That's a nightmare story for another time.  This one is about getting the dogette from Costa Rica to Panama.
So, I had checked all possibilities and none of them looked good.  For one thing, I had managed to accumulate a tiny amount of stuff in Costa Rica, mostly bedding and a few pots and pans, and I was very attached to my pillows in particular, hating the thought of leaving them behind.  I concocted all sorts of elaborate schemes whereby I would roll the bedding into a black plastic bag, mash it all down really well and lash the bag to my duffle so that at the border and when changing buses I would be able to manage the duffle, the bedding bag, the backpack, my purse and the dog carrier. What folly.
In Costa Rica I had successfully smuggled the tiny dogette on both long distance and local buses many times in her closed carrier.  She is very quiet and most people don't even notice her.  However, Panama tends to be a bit more uptight about rules and regs than Costa Rica.  In Panama the enforcers are soldiers serious about their work.  In Costa Rica they did away with the military some twenty years ago.  So learning that Panama was officially no more welcoming to dogs than Costa Rica was definitely an Oh, s_ _t_  moment.
What to do?  I thought about renting a car.  Alas, not possible for various reasons.  I ran scenarios where I took taxis between towns.  That actually might have worked pretty well, looking at it in retrospect.  Taxis are less expensive in Panama than they are in Costa Rica.  It certainly wouldn't have cost more than the option I chose.
In any case, how I would get myself, my stuff and la dogette to Panama fell into the category of what Alan Tutt, an excellent teacher of manifesting, calls "The Dread Hows."  When you desire to manifest something, the instruction is to focus on the desired outcome and let the universe work on "how" to make it happen.  I have always been pretty good at manifesting for myself, but I never really realized before this very moment that IS what I do.  At first I run through all the options I can think of for accomplishing what I want and if none of them suit, I don't worry about it.  I just keep going with the other aspects of my objective and something viable invariably turns up in the empty sector.  It just sort of drops into my lap.
So I stopped fussing about modes of transportation and instead began organizing la dogette's paperwork.
Now I had already gone through an intense series of hassles with the dogette's paperwork back in the States.  Costa Rica and Panama both require a rabies shot within 1 year and a certificate of good health.  I had both those things when I left North Carolina, but the customs officer in the San Jose airport KEPT the International Health Certificate, which had cost me over $100 USD to get by the time I finished paying for the veterinary exam, the form, and Fedex both ways to get it to and from the appropriate government agency in a timely fashion.  The customs official wasn't supposed to KEEP the certificate, he was supposed to stamp it and give it back. I was so upset! But there wasn't a thing I could do about it except get another health certificate in Costa Rica.  They told me it would cost me another $100 USD.
So I put it off and put it off.  But after I finally decided on a date of departure, I realized I had to deal with it and went down to get the certificate. The vet had previously told me I should do it two weeks in advance of my departure date.
This vet, who shall remain nameless because I haven't a lot of nice things to say about him, showed up for our appointment an hour late.  His "exam" consisted of holding the dog up in the air and turning her from side to side. "Hmm, she looks good," he pronounced.  However, in spite of the fact that her rabies shot was current and did not need to be repeated for 6 months, he thought we had better give her one anyway.  The system in the US where each shot is numbered and the number is on the tag, on the certificate and recorded with the state is not good enough in Costa Rica to prove your dog has been vaccinated, so it was necessary to have a Costa Rican rabies shot or the officials would not pass the health certificate.  Or so he said.  As he was only charging me $40 for the form and another $16 for the "exam" and getting the paperwork handled, and I wasn't going to be able to get her into Panama without the shot, I agreed, for $5.  So finally I was in possession of the stamped paperwork, and then I found out that he had done only half the job!  The stamped paper had to go to San Jose and be stamped some more!
So I hopped a bus ($6) for the 3 hour trip over the "Mountain of Death" to San Jose, where I took a 15 minute taxi ride ($7) to the address provided by the consulate as the place of stamping.  But no!  Animals? No! This was the Ministry of Agriculture and "We never do animals!  Never! Never! Never!  You must take this to Zapote!"
And where is that? Someplace way out there ($13).  My taxista, who was the nicest man, got lost. To his credit once he knew he was lost he turned off the meter until we arrived.  There we first encountered folks who wanted to send us someplace else, mostly based on my bad Spanish and the taxista's limited understanding of the situation, until someone actually looked at the paperwork and realized we really were in the right place.  At that point they delivered us into the hands of one of the good Doctors in the department who, incidentally, spoke perfect English.  A very witty man, he gave me a rundown on how to get a dog across the Panamanian border.  If you fly, he told me, you must have all your t's crossed and your i's dotted.  You must have your health certificate with it's stamp, and proof of a rabies shot. You must get signatures from the correct agricultural attorneys and you must go to the Department of Exterior Relations and be stamped. Also you must be prepared to pay the "Home Quarantine F'ee" (translation: bribe) of $140 when you arrive in the airport so that your dog will not be impounded for 30 days. 
However, if you are driving, he told me, it is a different story and everything depends on the official who is working at the border that day.  You need only the health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination.  Sometimes you do need the signatures of the attorneys, sometimes not.  "Fortunately I am an attorney and since you have already paid, let's just stamp this now and I will sign it and put the embossing seal on it." 
He then told me that it has been demonstrated that you can hire someone to watch the dog while you go through the border-crossing process. Then, once you are safely on the other side you could simply whistle for the dog, which would then make the crossing on its own, sans paperwork.
A wonderful apocryphal tale, no?  Full of defiance and the derring-do of pirates and revolutionaries other scoff-laws. Personally, I would never be willing to risk my baby that way, plus the story does not say what happens at the control checkpoint where the soldiers stop your car and demand to see your processed paperwork for the car and passports.  An obvious dog passenger… hmm.
OK. So I had all the t's crossed and he insisted that I did not need to cross the final i since I was not flying.  So we skipped the Department of Exterior Relations and my taxista delivered me ($14) back to the station for my bus ride back across the Mountain of Death ($6).  Adding it up, we see that $40 + $16 + $5 + $6 + $7 + $13 +$14 +$6 = $107  which is $7 more than I would had had to pay a vet who knew his business, not to mention that I could have spent the day at the pool instead of taxiing around San Jose in the heat.  So unless you are already IN San Jose and have a car with air conditioning and all the time in the world, if you are ever offered a deal on an  international health certificate for your dog in Costa Rica, run the other way! 
To be continued…

Monday, March 26, 2012


Many of you know that I was born in Panama.  In the city of Colon, as opposed to the city of David. Claiming the latter could have been fun, but oh-well. And then I was adopted. Anyway, the birth certificate says that Mom was British, by name one Susan Stockin, and the apocrypha says that Mom was connected with the royals in some obscure way. Who would give that the least bit of credence that if it were not for the fact that the trail has been blocked?  All traces removed?  Is stone cold?  On a Neolithic scale of freezing.  Which is to say, there is NO information about my origins.
I grew up secretly believing, as many adopted children do, that I was really a princess. This was before I ever heard the apocryphal story. At the time I was just glad I had been adopted by regular people because I thought princessing sounded like a really rotten job. From what little I could see a princess almost never got to do anything she wanted to do, she had to marry whatever dork her family picked out for her, and she had to spend an awful lot of time doing what my young self considered dumb things like christening ships, waving at people, giving interviews and looking nice while holding flowers at hospitals.
I had known I was not a biological member of the live-with family since maybe forever, in spite of all the well-meant lies they told me, but it didn't really bother me. I was never especially obsessed with finding the birth parents, as some adoptees are.  I had been adopted – that meant somebody really, really wanted me – and then I had been adopted again after my first adoptive mother died and my adoptive father remarried.  And in spite of the fact that the second mother and I were mutually not in love, I still felt sufficiently wanted and had no internal pressure to hunt down people who emphatically didn't want me.
When I was 18 I received a graduation gift of a trip to Europe.  This necessitated getting a passport. So step-adoptive mother hauled out the birth certificate and for the first time I saw my birth mother's name: Susan Stockin, British citizen.
Father: unknown. Huh. I bet Susan knew who he was.  And then the fateful line: Born out of wedlock and therefore illegitimate.  Well.
That was in 1942 when stuff like that still mattered, and if a girl was a bit fast you said she was "no better than she should be."  And everyone knew what you meant.  Old biddies in particular.  So can't you just see the pinched lips below a faint mustache on the nurse making that entry?  Can't you just see the neat, no-hair-out-of-alignment chignon under the crisp cap, and the glint of the cat's eye glasses as she wrote? 
My step-adoptive mother was mortified by that line of text. She could not deal with it, and didn't want me to have to deal with it either. Not anticipating the loose ways of the world to come, she destroyed the document after I had been safely en-passported and citizenized.  (Yes, I had been an illegal alien for 18 years and nobody had the least idea. Woohoo.)
It wasn't until Step-Adoptive Mom had been laid to rest for some years and I was in my thirties (it was about 1982) that I needed that fateful document again. I managed to use my passport for proof of birth and age. However, in the process my then sweetie, Steve, had his curiosity bump excited and with my permission he began trying to track Susan down. 
This was when we discovered the trail was blocked. 
Steve was a determined investigator.  He made phone calls to Panama. He wrote letters.  He contacted the military and the diplomatic services for Panama, Britain and the US.  He called the embassies and the consulates.  Short of physically barging into offices, he made his presence known as an investigator.
And there was nothing there.  The trail was non-existent.  It was as though I had never been born, had never even had my adoptive father push on his own commanders to obtain emergency clearance so he could take me to the states.
We both thought this was a very suspicious circumstance.  Too much TV?  Maybe.  But what was there to do about it anyway?  I was not really interested in continuing to try to meet people who so obviously did not want to meet me. I told Steve to drop it.
And so it stayed until 2010, when once again I needed my birth certificate because I wanted to teach ESL in Mexico.  I had pretty much forgotten how much trouble Steve had in his search, and sent off a letter (with a check for the very healthy fee) to the Panamanian Consulate asking for help in finding my birth certificate.  It only took a week or so for a note scribbled at the bottom of my letter to be returned to me along with the check.  "Sorry, we are unable to locate it."
Well, I thought, when I am in Mexico I will at least be closer, and perhaps I will pop down to Panama for a visa-run.  It would make a nice vacation, too. 
So toward the end of my allotted days in Mexico, I bought a ticket for Panama.  But the trip was fated not to be that year. A mere month before departure I slipped in the tiled shower of my 'habitacion' and fell.  My wrist shattered and I was forced to fly home for repairs.
It took me another year and a half to recover and save up to try again.  This time I got talked into going to Costa Rica by well-meaning friends.  It's true that Costa Rica is totally gorgeous, from the countryside to the people.  And I certainly do not regret going there, particularly since I felt some renewed connection with my first adoptive mother, who died in the jungles there. 
She and Daddy adopted me because they could have no children of their own.  Then, the frequent miracle occurred – once the pressure of desperately wanting a child was off, she became pregnant.  Unfortunately, it was a tubal pregnancy and she was on vacation in the Costa Rican jungle when my potential sibling began to make him or herself known.  So the only one of my mothers who really wanted me perished there before they could get her to medical help.  I was six months old.
Daddy pressured his commanding officers and pushed through the paperwork that allowed me to enter the US when he flew back with her ashes.  He presented us both to her mother, my beloved Gram.
Nearly 70 years later, here I was, living in Costa Rica but thinking constantly about Panama.  Panama is right next door.  Life is cheaper in Panama.  I want to see Panama. Etc.  But there so many come hithers in Costa Rica – the unequalled natural beauty of the land, the riotous bursts of flowers, the pleasure of seeing so many lovely, smiling faces wherever you look.  And the kindness of the people.  Friends.  And then there were the expelling factors – the local hacker who had been after me, the constantly rising cost of living, the bad plumbing in my cabina, the bugs that simply love to munch me. 
One day when I was half-mad from scratching a fresh set of bites from an unknown insect, had just returned from spending way too much on groceries, and opened the door to my cabina to be met with a deep whiff of sewer, I made the decision. It was time to move to Panama.
To be continued…

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Occasionally my ears ring.  The first time I heard that expression I thought it meant you would hear something similar to a small bell repeating – ding, ding, ding.  But no, the sound is more a persistent "eeeeeee" noise.
            Now there are also machines that do the same thing.  Fluorescent lights occasionally sound like that and I once had a defective electric appliance that sang to me intermittently.
            But here in Costa Rica, there is a bug that rings in your ears.  La chicharra, my neighbor called it.  We have about 5 giant floodlights that glare all night long, protecting us from anything that might want to go bump in our night. The first few times I heard la chicharra "sing," I thought one of the lights was about to blow.  But yesterday one was on the hillside and I also heard the wind-up. The sound was similar to an off-balance motor trying to gain take-off speed.  And then… "wheeeeeeeeeeeee."  I realized it had to be a bug and asked my neighbor who happened to be outside.  
            Her comment was that I should wait until next month, when thousands of them would be "singing" at the same time!  
            I was reminded of the cicadas in a Texas August – the sound is not the same, as the cicada's tone is much lower, but the insects have a similar fly-like shape and they are both LOUD.  The chicharras are bigger, however.  MUCH bigger.  Apparently they can reach up to two inches or so in length!  But with no sting, no bite and no crop damage, they are harmless.
Unless you consider driving everyone mad might be harmful.
Well, it's good for the character.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


When I think of bells, my brain goes classic. For Whom the Bell Tolls brings to mind a series of deep, mournful solitary bongs. Bonnnngggg….  Bonnnnnnggg….  Bonnnnnggg.  How about The Bells of St. Mary’s?  That one brings to mind familiar hymns in rounded golden tones. Beautiful.
Here in San Isidro the cathedral bells are proudly rung quite often. There is an actual, live, bell-ringing person who does it.  When does he sleep, I wonder? Some nights, they ring every hour on the hour. All night long they call the faithful to prayer. At one: Bolng. (That is not a typo.) At two: bolng, bolng. At three: bolng, bolng, bolng. Etc. You get used to it, and after a few nights, you can even sleep right through it. Well, through some of it.
Recently we have been upgraded to a single stroke on the half-hour as well, from very early (I think 5:30am – dawn in the tropics - although I can’t say for sure because some days I am actually able to sleep until 6am) to about 8:30. Possibly this is a convenience for commuters and businesses. I’m sure it would be helpful to the faithful planning to attend early mass, as well.
Our bell-ringer plays hymns, too. I have listened to his progress as he learned one.  He seems to only have the one.  The first two times I heard it, I admit to wincing.  Can a bell be tuned? These bells, most unfortunately, are not true, and timing errors seem more painful for it.
How does a bell-ringer – someone who rings the BIG bells – practice discreetly? The process of playing a song on big bells involves much more than just learning the notes. This is a whole body involvement. Reach to pull the rope, pull, time the strike. Time the next bell. Imagine having to do that for an entire sequence of notes, an entire song.  What an embarrassment to get it wrong. When does a poor bell-ringer practice inconspicuously?
Why at 3am when there is no one around to hear, of course.
Erm, the bells can be heard for miles…
But he is a quick study. It has been less than two weeks since he began playing this particular song, and it sounds MUCH better now. More like a perfume of sound upon the air, and less like an assault upon the ears. With our bell-ringer’s improved skill, the bells even seem less flat. I am beginning to feel the general proprietary pride in both him and the bells. I look forward now to the morning song.
(Written in November, 2010)

Saturday, February 11, 2012


 All but three Tico women in Costa Rica are generously endowed, I swear it.  And only two seem to feel no drive to showcase.  Never in my life have I seen more breast tissue on display, even on TV, than on the streets in CR.  TV has more or less desensitized most of us to skin tight T-shirts and aureola grazing necklines, so unless you are shopping for clothes for your still-hibited self, it's pretty much ho-hum, another boob on display, so what.
Unless, of course, you are a guy.  The guys here are very good at not-drooling and disguised staring, but I have observed a few very close shaves in traffic caused by a spectacular set strolling past.  I kind of wonder if the skill the Costa Rican males have developed for seeming to ignore all this mammary glory has had something to do with the development of tighter and tighter clothing, lower and lower necklines and a cultural imperative toward the push-up bra. The population is heavily skewed toward the distaff, as all the guys head north to make money before returning to buy property and set up a family. Naturally the women would be competitive.
Be that as it may, a writer friend recently shared a paper she wrote at university discussing boob issues.  I found it so funny, so right-on, and so insightful that I asked her if I could share it with you.  Because it is rather long, I took the liberty of taking some of the more academic bits out, most notably the reference section and the introductory explanation of the work of C. Wright Mills, the sociologist who inspired the paper.  Anyone who is interested can probably obtain the entire paper by writing me (and I will ask her).  So, without further introduction, here is our guest blogger for today, Nerissa Gailey.

Who Is Afraid of the Big, Bad Boob?  Private Troubles, Public Issues, and Breast Cancer
In 2010, my husband and I took our teenage children on an odyssey to California.  Upon our return, one of my clients expressed an interest in viewing photos from our family vacation, and we spent a pleasant afternoon going through the pictures together and sharing travel stories.  My client enjoyed the vicarious trip, but in looking at these pictures as though through her 90 year old eyes, I began to doubt the wisdom of continuing to go braless at this point in my life. 
Here is an example of a personal dilemma confounded by its intersection with all kinds of hairy public issues!  My choice of undergarments is surely a private concern, but when I realized how obvious it was that my boobs were just sitting there, being themselves, I was distinctly uneasy.  Those boobs of mine were breaking the rules, instead of conforming to society’s expectations by gamely enduring a harness. A bra would coerce them into a more acceptable shape, while simultaneously disguising them, making them like Barbie’s boobs; no threat to anyone.  Two for one:  greater sex appeal and modesty are both invoked by the same garment, and those who forswear the bra must suffer the assumptions and negative sanctions reserved for the deviant (Female Intelligence Agency Examines: Why do women wear bras?, 2003-2011).  Well, I believe in picking my battles:  I went to Sears and bought myself some respectability (and anonymity, and sex appeal).
It did not work out.  I would get home from work and rip that bra off as fast as I could, but my breasts grew increasingly sore, and even the lymph nodes in my underarm area grew hard.  I treated a public issue (unacceptable bralessness) like a personal trouble, and got myself a medical problem.  Sore, lumpy boobs:  what is a girl to do?  I asked around amongst females of my acquaintance.  Fifty to sixty percent of women without breast disease exhibit “fibrocystic changes” (Santen, 2005), including  my friend Mary, my next-door neighbor, my hairdresser, and my mother, who all agree it is no big deal, but none of them had experience to parallel my own, because they were not in pain and they were all life-long bra-wearers.  At that point, it seemed sensible to me to treat this as a case of lymphatic edema.  I tried to flush out my lymphatic system by bouncing on a trampoline several times a day, as per Linda Brooks’ book Rebounding to Better Health (1995).  Once again, I addressed the problem from within my “private orbit,” (Mills, 1959, p. 1) as Mills would say, attempting to find a solution from within my immediate milieu. 
I decided that my clients probably didn’t care whether my boobs were appropriately reined in or not, and abandoned the bra.  Gradually the worst of the discomfort subsided, but my breasts did not normalize completely.  Five months after the problem began, I hurt my back wrangling a client’s wheelchair into my car, and I finally went to the doctor.  Here we have another lurking public issue: like many women, I prioritized my clients’ needs and those of my family above safeguarding my own health, and brought my doctor into the conversation only when crisis hit and I could no longer possibly cope using my own resources.
The doctor helped me initiate a claim with Worker’s Compensation for the back injury, examined my breasts, advised me to limit my (already minimal) intake of chocolate and caffeine, and scheduled a mammogram.  I spent the next four weeks horizontal, anguished about leaving my clients in the lurch, unable to face the prospect of continuing to work for Home Instead Senior Care, and scared about my health.  I read Gabor Mate’s When the Body Says No (2003), and pondered my own patterns around incapacitating myself when circumstances become untenable.  This book discusses the physiology of stress and its effects on immune function, and Mate’s vivid case studies illustrate how a threat to one’s values can become a threat to one’s life.  Mate treats this material intelligently and with great heart, illuminating the connection between stress and disease without veering off into “the cancer personality” or other blame-the-victim territory.  I examined my psyche, and my dead end, low wage job, looking for an exit less extreme than death. 
Here is more grist for Mills’ mill:  I am an intelligent, competent, creative 40 year old woman, but I have no credentials.  There I was, working as a caregiver for $10.50 an hour, while my clients paid $21.75 an hour to the agency that employed me.  The job had become unbearable due to irreconcilable differences:  the agency’s business model required each caregiver to be instantly replaceable with another, and my humanity required me to be fully present and genuinely available to each client and their unique needs.  I was much valued by my clients, largely due to the personal connection we shared, and each time the agency introduced another bureaucratic protocol, further institutionalizing the relationship, I saw no benefit for me, my clients, or the standard of care being delivered.  Mills, quoted by Mark Smith, talks about this depersonalization of work in White Collar:  “[E]ach individual is routinized in the name of increased and cheaper per unit productivity” (Smith, 1999, 2009, p. 6).  I struggled with my employer over these losses of autonomy, arguing unsuccessfully that making caregivers wear uniforms mandatorily undermines our ability to provide discreet companionship, and is a violation of the client’s right to privacy.  Bureaucracies are not known for flexibility, and this policy change with the dress code for caregivers produced untenable role conflict (Lanning, 2011):  I was not the only one of Home Instead’s most senior, award-winning caregivers to flee the agency within months of this change.
Tending to the needs of society’s aged members is “shit work” (The Transvaluation of "Shit": a political issue, 2010).  This work is necessary for society, and not intrinsically demeaning, but it was traditionally performed for free within the context of the family.  Those who can afford to outsource domestic labor often do so, and this labor is relegated to those of  low status.  The low wage guarantees that those who engage in such work remain of  low status, and have to engage in more labor than is personally sustainable, simply to meet their basic economic needs.  How do you break out of circumstances like this?  The unmitigated capitalist business model of my employer gave all control to the agency, and the non-compete clause of my contract left me unable to set up independently, were I so bold as to attempt it.  The legal ramifications of providing care outside the aegis of an agency like Home Instead are daunting enough to offset the extra income independence would provide, and franchises like Home Instead count on this fact.  The structure of our current economy requires expensive, expert training to escape the limited prospects of the high school graduate (Lanning, 2011).  No job is worth dying for, and this one certainly wasn’t.  In no position to confront the public issues involved here, I resigned from my position with all the grace I could muster, and waited for my mammogram appointment.
The morning of my mammogram, I was nervous about the procedure because I had heard that sometimes it is painful.  I was fairly confident that nothing was seriously wrong, however, since I don’t possess the commonly cited risk factors for breast cancer.  Like the general public, I was not educated appropriately about risk factors.  As Penelope Williams states in Breast Cancer:  Biography of an Illness, 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no risk factors except being female (p. 20). 
A risk factor is a substance or condition that increases the chance of developing a particular cancer…The degree of risk each factor poses depends on a number of different things and can vary from person to person….It can be seen as a contributing cause, but it’s not the underlying cause.  It is established through statistical analysis of correlation, rather than any firm understanding of how it might result in the formation of cancer cells.  Correlation is not cause, but to date it’s all we’ve  got…  [R]isk factors guide much of the research; they are listed in most articles published by the popular media; they grace the pamphlets and handouts from breast cancer organizations; they are the subject of sessions at conferences; and they twist our lives into pretzels when we interpret them as causes and try to live by them. They have evolved into rules of conduct, many of which we cannot live by, and many of which we shouldn’t live by, especially since the rules keep changing.  (p. 14) 
Too unsettled to read, I scanned the waiting room.  Most of the women present were ten to fifteen years older than me, with one exception:  the youngest in the room, a tattooed  twenty-something, was obviously in the midst of treatment, being the only one with no street clothes under her hospital gown and no hair on her head.  She radiated an enviable toughness.  No one was interacting with anyone they hadn’t brought with them, and the educational display boobs (meant for practicing breast self-examination techniques) lay unmolested.  I gave those model boobs a thorough feel up, and I could detect none of the lumps supposedly in them, and they didn’t even have ribs behind them to confuse the issue!  If my breast tissue was that malleable, I would not be there:  Mauling the fake boobs was not an enlightening educational activity. 
Women are continually counseled to perform breast self-exams, even though research suggests these do not improve health outcomes. “The evidence on breast self-examination is clear, there is no benefit to breast cancer mortality and results suggest that breast self-examination may do more harm than good” (McCready, 2005).  Women are told that breast self-exams are important for early detection of breast cancer, when in fact tumors are undetectable by touch until quite late in the game.  In spite of credible research such as McCready’s, doctors continue to recommend self-exams, and the naturopath I consulted was the worst offender:  The charting system she advocated for tracking breast changes was  absurdly complex, useful to only the most technically-minded, highly dedicated boob groper.
When my turn came, I was relieved at the skillful technician’s straightforwardness, and the discomfort was minimal.  She took several views of each breast, and asked me to wait a few minutes to be sure the radiologist didn’t require anything further.  I was called back in, and this time it was like having my breast gripped in a vise, and then she rotated it!  The pain did not recede for several days.
Mammograms are controversial.  Like breast self-exams, they are recommended as a prevention measure, but they prevent nothing, and even as a tool for early detection, they are flawed.  Sidney Ross Singer, a medical anthropologist, describes the controversy from this perspective:
About 20 years ago, when I was in medical school [he wrote this in 1995 or 1996], I remember reading about the bold experiment our culture was about to undertake to deal with the rising tide of  breast cancer. Without having any knowledge as to the cause of this disease, which would allow true breast cancer prevention, it was reasoned that the best alternative to prevention was early detection and treatment. Towards this end, a massive mammogram experiment began. […] Of course, you cannot prevent a disease by looking for it. Once you find it, you've got it. Early detection means you have cancer. This is not prevention, despite claims made in the propaganda campaign to get women to comply with mammogram guidelines.  It is not usually mentioned in that propaganda that mammograms use potentially dangerous x-rays, which are known to cause cancer. Exposure to radiation is also cumulative, which means the chances of these x-rays causing cellular mutation increases with each new exposure. And recent research has shown that false positives have resulted in unnecessary surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, not to mention the psychological trauma to women and their families resulting from a false cancer diagnosis and treatment.  There are also false negatives. Radiologists have to interpret the mammogram, and they make mistakes. Some may not see a mass, giving the woman a false sense of security.  Surely, if a woman has cancer in her breasts, it is best to detect and treat it early. That would be true for all cancers in all parts of the body. But does this justify a massive program to get women to routinely submit to x-rays as a screening procedure for disease? Would it make sense, for example, for men to routinely get their testes irradiated with x-rays to look for a tumor? Should we all get annual brain x-rays to scan for tumors? Some people may be saved by this. But most people will be harmed, not only by the x-rays themselves, but also by going through unnecessary treatment caused by false positive results.  (The Mammogram Scam)
My doctor phoned before that twisted tit had stopped smarting.  She explained that the radiologist found small calcium deposits in my left breast, and I was given an appointment for an ultrasound and a needle biopsy in four weeks’ time.  My earlier confidence evaporated.  Two days before the appointment date, the hospital (a robot, not a human voice) phoned to postpone the diagnostics an additional three weeks.  Still, all these appointments happened relatively rapidly, which led me to suspect that my health was in grave danger in spite of my doctor’s “it’s very common” and “usually nothing to worry about” mutterings.  I was given nothing on paper:  I had no specific information about my case.  The hospital gave test results to my family doctor, and I never saw them.  I requested that my naturopath receive a copy of the radiologist’s report, but this was impossible because her name was not in Capital Health’s computer.  Another public issue:  privacy laws now restrict the distribution of medical information to such an extent that sometimes the patient cannot view their own! 
The ultrasound came first, and it turned out this was for the right breast, and the technician was happy with what she saw, concluding that the area of concern was a “discrete clump of breast tissue,” and not a tumor.  All damp from conduction jelly, I trundled across the hall for my next ordeal.
Sherry, the nurse assisting the resident who was to perform the biopsy, carefully explained the procedure to me, and I signed the consent forms.  She decided the procedure would work best if I were lying down, and positioned me accordingly.  Lying there with my left breast in a clamp, I became sick with fear, and suddenly felt very strongly that the biopsy was the wrong thing to do.  They released me immediately.  The resident, who couldn’t completely suppress his amusement when I told him of my failed trampoline self-treatments, asked if anyone had shown me the films from my mammogram.  Together, we looked at the three tiny white specks of calcium in the image.  He explained that this was a “low suspicion” procedure, and that we could certainly justify waiting six months and repeating the mammogram, rather than proceeding with the biopsy under these circumstances.  Had I been given this information (in writing, with the context for my results included), I could have saved Capital Health some time and trouble!  I did wonder if that resident was disappointed because he did not get to use that fancy core sampling gun on my lightly calcium-flecked flesh, but they were very gracious about my reversal.  Informed consent is a public issue which has been addressed, and so in this case I was saved some personal misery.  I was grateful to be given enough information to judge the risks and benefits of the biopsy for myself, and no one implied that I should choose differently.  I walked away intact and empowered, and I will have a follow-up mammogram on November 28th.
What does my experience tell us about private troubles and public issues and the fight against breast cancer?  There has been much improvement over the years in the experience of being a patient, and I was saved some of the difficulties of earlier boobs.  Breast cancer has been successfully brought into the public awareness, and is no longer a taboo subject.  Cancer victims are no longer treated like pariahs; in fact, there is tremendous support available.  I meet women everywhere who have a story to tell about it, and who are living testaments to survival.  But the causes of cancer remain unclear, and the conversation around risk factors needs to change. 
Bra-wearing has been investigated as a possible risk factor (Rockel, 1996), and the research seems plausible.  I know from my own experience (and now you do, too!) that bra wearing can cause problems with breast health. But the Canadian Cancer Society dismisses this as a “myth” (Bras and breast cancer, 2011), and the authors of the largest epidemiological study linking bras and cancer describe the persistent stonewalling they have received in trying to disseminate their research (Ross Singer, Bra and Breast Cancer Cover-up)
It is difficult to continue to trust that mainstream medicine is acting in good faith when controversies like this are summarily dismissed, especially when personal experience contradicts prevailing conclusions.  If the Canadian Cancer Society objects to the research methods of Sydney Ross Singer, why aren’t they conducting their own research on the impacts of restrictive clothing on lymphatic function?  Medicine loses credibility over this kind of thing, and thousands of patients are flocking to alternative practitioners because of it.  The public is forced to gamble with health because of role conflicts within the research and treatment communities, whose allegiances to corporate funding often determine resource allocation over more patient-centered priorities.  The medical community could use a dose of sociological imagination, and would do well to heed Mills’ conclusion:  “Do not allow public issues as they are officially formulated, or troubles as they are privately felt, to determine the problems you take up for study” (as quoted in Smith, 1999, 2009 p11).

Sunday, February 5, 2012


            Every time I accidentally tune in to "House" on TV, I am floored by the fact that Dr. House and his team are allowed to practice medicine. Even fictionally on TV. And that any hospital could be represented as wanting them to do so. Even fictionally on TV.
            Suppose you are a patient. 
You make the trip to Emergency because your arm has swollen up. It is because some insect or other bit you, and you are having an allergic reaction. But you don't know that, and there is no obvious bite mark, so you can't just tell the doctor.
You are assigned to a doctor on House's team.
"Hmm," says your doc. "Your arm seems to be swollen. Any other symptoms?"
"Nope," you reply, grabbing for the nearest container so you can vomit.
"Code Something!" shrieks your doctor, pulling hospital personnel to assist from behind curtains and grabbing the nearest defibrillator. "Clear!" 
And so he zaps you with the defibrillator, just in case you need it.
Naturally, your body jerks a couple of times.
"Patient is seizing! Fifty cc's of Designer Drug!"
Since you didn't need the whatever-he-just-shot-you-up-with, and it has side effects (remember your drug lessons from the TV ads, boys and girls: "Side effects may include –but are not limited to – headache, nausea, blotchy skin, bloody nose, tremors, toe fungus and death."), your skin turns blotchy and your nose begins to bleed. And you develop tremors.
Dr. House and a few other members of the team wander into your treatment room.  House says something insulting to your doctor, then turns and just for kicks insults you, too, a few times before leaving. Your doctor follows him like a puppy recently whacked with a newspaper. The group stops to confer in front of the glass window of your emergency treatment room.  House is nasty to everyone in turn, then tosses off a few gratuitous insults to hospital personnel fortunate enough not to be in listening range before demanding diagnoses from the team.
"Well," says one of them, " it could be a snake bite."
"Yes!" cries a second team member. "A fer de lance escaped from the zoo yesterday!"
"What's wrong with that diagnosis?" demands House.
"No puncture wounds, sir," replies your doctor. "At least none that we found."
"I know!" cries another team member, "It's appendicitis!  In obscure cases, a side effect is a swollen arm! Plus she has blotchy skin and a nose bleed!"
"Good work, Number Seven," says House, limping off.  "Prep the patient for surgery!"
And so forth. 
You have at least one more "seizure" (actually just tremors caused by the drugs they tried out on you in the spirit of elimination) and they invade your home to take samples off the paint under the sink before they figure out that you were bitten by some insect or other when the swelling goes down by itself.  Of course, by then, you have 12 complications from unnecessary medication, and no appendix.  Your insurance company is certain to have something to say about this.
In the early seventies when my children were young and we were living in the wilds of Northern California, the local hospital had a doctor with Housian tendencies, although he had a much sweeter disposition.  I think actually the poor man was just bored with the humdrum routine of health care in a small town.
Anyway, one time I took my three-year old daughter in for a wound on her hand that did not seem to be healing.  "Hmm," said this doctor, alarming me to edge of heart palpitations, "you live on what used to be the old (Johnson) ranch, don't you?  They used to run sheep there.  I think she cut herself on some barbed wire, which held a residue of anthrax, which sheep carry.  This, therefore, is probably an anthrax infection.  We should treat it with a strong course of antibiotics and blah, blah, blah."
Needless to say, I sought a second opinion.
Turns out it was an infected mosquito bite that she kept scratching.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Just a reminder that "A Chip in Time" will only be free until midnight (or maybe a little longer if I fall asleep early) on the 31st. On February 1, it starts costing $2.99, so get your copy now!


When This Happens, Retire with Dignity...
A friend sent me this and I thought it was worth sharing since it strikes a chord these days.  The original can be found on ALLVOICES.COM.   Keep in mind that it was offered there (and is offered here) in a spirit of fun and was also offered for sharing.

Friday, January 27, 2012


A Fortune in Houseplants Beside the Road
The gorgeous flower above blooms on the hillside at the end of the suspension bridge across the Rio Quebradas. There is only one way into our compound, and one way out. Over the bridge. Each time I walk across I marvel at the beauty of these flowers. They seem to only last a day, so there are never hundreds of them, only a few, rare as true passion itself.      
Wild Orchids
I am constantly stunned by the beauty of this place. As I used to joke when I moved to LA from places like northern California, Seattle, Montana, Texas and Boston, I am in "horticultural shock."  There in LA, the jacaranda trees floored me.  And the perfumed February evenings of Beverly Hills - I think it may have been the scent of sweet olives that so intoxicated me, that made me feel I had been transported to celestial realms.  Here in Costa Rica when the cane fields bloomed I couldn't believe my eyes.  I constantly see plants I struggled to coax to simply live thriving in the roadside ditches, staggering under blossoms in casual yards, 20 feet tall to the 12 inches they grudged me. Orchids on 15 foot stems grace my friends' backyards.  Bromeliads and ferns decorate unlikely trees.  Birds of Paradise fan out 30 feet in the air. And fruit falls into your hands from every third or fourth tree.  I know now why this is called paradise.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Dearest Readers,
I am thrilled to report that last night CHIP reached #29 on the Kindle Top 100 in the Fantasy category! A great big thank you to everyone who "bought" the book! (It's still free, but the price goes up February 1. A girl has to make a living, after all.) But let me stress: thank you thank you thank you thank you!


The most horrific and immediate encounter I ever had with roaches was when I lived in a squalid little studio in downtown LA. I moved there to be closer to my evening job, which was teaching at a vo-tech school.  (The school was right on the border between the Crips' turf and the Bloods' territory – in other words, the Gaza strip. But that is another story.)
You have to understand that I was fairly broke at the time.  And it was LA, where rents were through the roof.  I had tried the roommate thing with fairly disastrous results  (I seem to be a magnet for harmless nut-cases). I could not afford much in the way of a place of my own, so when I found this studio, I was thrilled and grateful and determined to make it work.
I knew there were roaches in the building. How could I not? The fire doors in the halls were decorated with four inch, smashed roach corpses. But I was confident I could deal with it.
First, I bought some of those electrical plugs that make a whining noise too high-pitched for human ears, but which is intensely distasteful to bugs. Then I made sure I kept everything clean and covered, took out the trash regularly, etc.
For a while, that was fine. It seemed to be working.
Then, I don't know what happened, but it stopped working. I saw them lurking in the corners, watching me. I saw them scurry off to hide in the bathroom. Worst of all, at night they got in bed with me and ran up and down my body. EEEEEEWWWWW!
Something had to be done, but what?  I am categorically opposed to poison. I will not live in a poisoned environment, so I couldn't fumigate or put out those roach trap thingies.
Who am I kidding? I couldn't poison them because I am Buddhist and, honey, it's ag'in my religion.  (I have been Buddhist for nearly 30 years now.) AND I am unwilling to live with poison.
But I remembered how Darlene had dealt with the mice. And I wondered what would happen if I tried it on the roaches. 
Darlene lived in the end unit of the cabins I stayed in when we all went to massage school in the mountains of Northern California. For whatever little rodent reason, as the weather cooled the field mice decided that of all the cabins, hers would be the most comfortable as a winter vacation home.
So they moved in and began gnawing on the woodwork late at night.
She couldn't sleep. She fixated on the noises, "Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw."
And although she is not Buddhist, she is opposed to killing things, so she had a problem. One night, in total desperation, she sat up in bed and addressed the mice. "Mice," she said, "listen up.  This is my home and you are keeping me awake at night. I don't want to hurt you, but we cannot share this space. So I am offering you a deal.  I will put food out for you in the ravine, if you will move out and not bother me.  But if you don't move out, I am going to get a cat."
She kept her word and put food out for them every few days.
And the mice moved out.
And this IS a true story. I was there.
So, I thought, if it works for mice, maybe it will work for roaches.  That night before I lay down to sleep, I had a chat with my buggy little crew. 
"OK, guys," I told them, "this is how it is.  This is MY home, not yours.  You are in MY space, and you are being very rude. We cannot share this space. However, you have the entire rest of the building to run around in. The neighbors on the left are not careful with their food, and my neighbor on the right is a crazy guy who never cleans house. You would like it there much better than here. So I am asking you very nicely to please not be in my unit. I have nothing to offer you that is better, except that the other places in this building are much more roach-friendly. So please, don't come here any more. Thank you."
I know it is hard to credit, but the fact is the roaches apparently passed the word around and left me alone after that. I never saw another one in my apartment. And all I did was ask nicely. Well, I also got a couple more of those shrieker-plug things. I cannot tell a lie.
I realize I sound like a delusional nut-case.
Too bad.
I have since tried the same thing with ants in Georgia.
Just call me The Bug Whisperer. It worked on the ants too.
Oh—one tip: make sure the shrieker-plug things are close to floor level.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I don't believe I had ever seen a cockroach until my early 40's when I moved to LA.  There, many of my acquaintance mentioned them casually in conversation. One thing they commented on was that if you moved from an apartment with roaches to one without, the roaches would hitch a ride in one of your cardboard boxes.  As I tended to move frequently and still had no idea what they looked like, I lived in terror of this happening.
These were pre-internet days. Today I would just hop online and ask  for picture of a cockroach so I could recognize one instead of suspecting innocent beetles. However, this is now and that was then.
And it was LA.  I  took an evening yoga class in a questionable neighborhood.  Class had finished about 7:30 this particular warm, humid, summer night. A male friend offered to walk me to my car, and we chatted lazily as we approached a storm drain near the corner of the block.
Something twitched near the drain. The movement caught my eye and I gasped involuntarily as I got a good look at several eight inch beetles crawling out of the darkness.
"My god! Would you look at that!" I shrieked, pointing and jumping up and down.
My companion remained calm. (He'd been living in LA and doing yoga a lot longer than I had.) "Those? Those are just roaches.  They can get pretty big when there's a good food source. Just ignore them."
How do you ignore an eight inch roach? Shades of Kafka. And that joke:
There was a youngish man who really enjoyed a cold one after work. In fact, he often enjoyed 12 to 18 cold ones of an evening.  So one night as he sat in his recliner, polishing off number 17 or so – who's counting? – he heard a knock at his door, and opened it.  There stood a 6 foot cockroach, which proceeded to demonstrate an excellent right hook. Stunned, the young man watched the roach depart before he managed to pull himself to his feet and close the door. "Wow," he muttered to himself, "maybe I better cut back on the sauce."
So the next evening, when he stopped at the convenience store, he only bought two six packs instead of three.  However, about the time he was polishing off number 11, there was a knock on the door. When he opened it, the same roach silently greeted him with a right hook, and then proceeded to pummel him further.
Sore and shaking, the young man staggered to his feet.  "I have really GOT to cut back," he said to himself. So the next night he only bought one six pack.  But it didn't help. The giant roach showed up just as he was finishing can number 5 and this time, really whaled the tar out of him.
"I need help," thought the young man. "I really need help." So he went to the doctor the next day. He told the doctor his sad tale and waited. 
"Hmm," said the doctor. "Yes. I am not too surprised.  There is a really nasty bug going around."
Now why is that my favorite joke?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Costa Rica is a country without an army, but they are at war.  Every woman in Costa Rica is armed and ready for battle with the enemy…la cucaracha.
The thing about roaches is not their quintessential bugginess, it's their "EEW Factor."  They run around on dead things and other sorts of germ factories, collecting nasty microbes on their little legs, then they run around on your dishes and your food, defecating and peeing and dropping bits from their legs.  EEW. And making you sick. Double EEW.
It gets worse. In CR the plumbing is not all it might be, so all are encouraged to put their used toilet paper not in the toilet for flushing, because that will probably plug up the pipes and then where will you be? No, you are to put your used paper into the waste basket, which is then taken out with the other trash. All trash seems to be in tied up plastic bags. In front of nearly every home you will see a wire basket on a one-legged stand. This is where the trash goes and is theoretically protected from raiding animals before being collected to be taken to the land fill.
But it is not protected from the ever-present roach.  The speedy little demons scurry freely in and out of the trash bags, including the ones containing… unprocessed human waste. And then they leg off into the kitchen and dart all over the dishes, any food left uncovered or unsealed, pooping in the corners, peeing in your cereal.
Now if that doesn't do it for your EEEEEWWW, nothing ever will.
So when I moved into my apartamento in CR, I knew what I needed to do was wash the dishes instantly, keep my garbage in a container with a lid, and never leave food out. That should do 'er, right?
By local standards my efforts were slovenly. The women of Costa Rica are clean freaks. Their EEW factor is very low. They maintain a zero tolerance policy.
All food is washed upon entering the house. Fruit is washed before being refrigerated. Oranges, mangoes, pineapples, cantaloupes, all are scrubbed off and dried. Packages of rice, of crackers and cookies are washed. Yes, the cellophane or plastic wrapping is washed and dried before it is stored, ideally in covered containers. Meat is washed. Bottles of sauces and Fanta and Coke, cans of beer -- EVERYTHING is washed.  What can be kept covered is kept covered. When I split the plastic ring to open a container of cream cheese and found cockroach turds, I immediately adopted the same policy.
Dishes are indeed washed instantly. And then they are washed once more before food is served on them.
Kitchen garbage is removed almost immediately.

Floors are washed with almost religious fervor. One Tico lady I know mops at least twice a day.  Nor is this a simple rinse.  It involves some scary cleaning products.  The stores are filled with bags of things with names like "Terror." 
These women are serious combatants in the war of the roaches. It amazes me that there are still any roaches left. Of course, judging from the size of most of them (less than half an inch at best), they have a short life expectancy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


 When the bus stops at Paso Canoas on the Panama side of the Panama-Costa Rica border, Panamanian soldiers herd everyone and all their goodies off the bus and into a stark white room with a small interrogation closet bumped out of one corner. (Well, what else would you call a 6 x 6 room with a one door and a grilled window?)
We were required to place our luggage in two tidy rows and ourselves against the wall while the soldiers watched us.  Then – O the drama! – a soldier with a beautiful young white dog appeared at the entry door.  Thrilled to see the luggage, the dog plunged, barking madly, against his leash. We passengers sucked in expectant breaths. The TV program I had seen about dogs trained to find drugs indicated they bark to signal a find!  The dog could smell it from the doorway!
Released from his restraint, Señor Canine Inspector made a bee-line to the first suitcase, sniffing it over with gusto, then the next, and the next. The fourth item was a cloth shopping bag, into which poochy's nose plunged deep. The owner remarked that the dog seemed to like the smell of his lunch, and the soldier pulled said enthusiastic snout back out of the bag and directed it to further investigation. So Señor Inspector Perro continued his rounds, lingering at one set of belongings in particular, but never barking.  After checking the suitcase and three shopping bags carefully, he lifted his leg with intent to mark.  Fortunately, his handler was able to stop him before much liquid escaped.  The passengers erupted into laughter. 
After identifying two more lunches, doggy was finished, re-leashed and led away. The soldiers now demanded to know whose luggage had been peed upon.  A bewildered woman with a three month old infant stepped forward and was led into the interrogation closet.
We were not told, but I suspect a combination of soiled baby clothes and a dog at home as the source of our intrepid canine inspector's interest. Mother and child were released fairly quickly, the rest of the passengers collected their belongings, and emptied the room.  One of the soldiers produced a mop and swished it across the semi-circle of urine drops.  Apparently, that kind of thing is not unusual.  Hmm.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No B.O. in Mexico

I promised to talk about interesting stuff - not just what's happening with my book.  So here you have an article I wrote last year which contains an amazing secret recipe!
No BO in Mexico
 In the nearly six months I have been here, the only person I have encountered obviously scenting the air with their personal pheromones was a tourist whose deodorant had failed. Actually, I knew the tourist in question, and she doesn’t use deodorant for various semi-, hemi-, demi-medical reasons. Alzheimers and aluminum and all that. So it was actually her soap that had failed. It was a hot day in winter.

I have a dear friend stateside who is sometimes in the same condition, for the same reasons. “Whooo! Honey,” I want to tell her, “you stink! Go fix it, PLEASE.” And not too long ago I worked with a man who made me want to hold my breath the entire time I was forced to ride in a closed car with him.

“Good news!” I want to tell all these superbly healthy folk. These legions of the musky. You can not-stink and live!

I can see the squinty-eyed skepticism rolling off them now, veritable waves of visible doubt sort of like the nearly tactile waves of b.o. with which they otherwise greet me.

I discovered this grand secret because I made an overnight touristy excursion and left the d.o. for my b.o. on the counter in the baño. Because it was retrievable – all I had to do was ask my hostess and in 24 hours I would have it back – I did not want to buy a new one. I chose to “tough it out.” To clearly illustrate this choice to her, as a visual aid to my poor Spanish I held my arms away from my sides.

“No, no, no, Yacqi!” Then a flood of Spanish, from which I managed to glean that “limon” mixed with a little “carbonada” and patted into the pits would take care of the issue. Now it is important to note that a “limon”is not a lemon, but the little green fruit called a “key lime” in the US. In Mexico people use it for everything from flavoring food to washing the counters because it “has antiseptic properties.”

And, she told me, I could buy some carbonada for 2 pesos (about 8 cents) right across the street. Not wishing to be the stinky gringa in a society where only foreigners ever seem to smell, I thought it worth a try. So, in the spirit of a cross-cultural experiment, I popped across the street and bought some carbonada.

It comes, like nearly everything else you buy here, in its own tidy little plastic bag, stapled shut. For my two pesos I received maybe two tablespoons of white powder. I had been to the “Mercado” (i.e., open air market) for food not long before, so I had a nice supply of juicy little green key limes. I cut one in half, turfed out the three seeds and headed for the baño with my prizes.

The carbonada was grainier than the baking soda back home, but when I squeezed some lime into a dime-sized pile in my palm it foamed up the same way baking soda introduced to vinegar foams up. And then I patted the stuff into my pits and waited – maybe two seconds – for it to dry.

You know what? I had not the least trace of b.o. that day. I used it again the next morning because my own deoderant had not yet returned at the hour of dressing, and that evening I found myself once again b.o.-free. (Yes, I sniffed my clothing. I also asked the dog to check it, and she agreed with me.)

These folks are on to something. I’m still traveling, so I can’t personally run the experiment, but I wonder if grocery store baking soda and lime juice would work the same way? The usual limes we buy in the states aren’t quite the same as key limes, and they are also fairly expensive. So are key limes. Hmm. Would a bottle of concentrated lime juice work as well, I wonder? I must ask my deodorant-opposed friends to perform this pseudo-scientific test and let me know. Tom’s of Maine, look out!