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!