Costa Rica

Mentors: Looking Through the Interstices

CalligraphyAll during high school, or until I was old enough to drive myself, my mother faithfully dropped me off at the front door of the art museum in my hometown, Portland, Oregon. Evenings, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I entered the deserted museum–– uniformed guard in the front foyer–– and made my way past whatever current exhibit was on display, then down the marble hallway to the stairway at the back of the building. For three years of my life I took a two-and-a-half-hour class led by Lloyd J. Reynolds, master calligrapher and iconoclast professor from Reed College.

The art museum allotted him a long narrow space just wide enough to fit twelve or fifteen desks with slanted tops. Narrow windows at the top of the room were covered with wire mesh for security; fluorescent tubes our only real source of light.  The room was often empty when I arrived. Over the next half hour others drifted in and settled themselves unpacking canvas art bags. We took up our pens in silence and retrieved our papers from our large black art folders. There was no need to be told, we were there to work.

Calligraphy is the art of making letters. That is the simple definition. It is not a skill like print lettering or stenciling, but a covenant between the artist and the paper. I was to find later that at its pinnacle it is a dance––a kind of performance––in which the artist is able to express himself with a spontaneous, yet disciplined, outburst on paper. A master calligrapher stamps his work with so much personality it becomes instantly recognizable as his own, as does any Cezanne or Picasso. Like any art form, it starts with singular focus, constant practice, and the application of will.

Reynolds usually arrived on time or slightly after the hour. He kept his white shoulder-length hair slicked back, and his thick, black-framed glasses seemed to accentuate his usual scowl.  He marched down the aisle between the desks, toting his enormous briefcase and puffing on his ever-present pipe. Once at the head of the class he would take off his coat to reveal a disheveled black suit, white shirt, and a narrow black tie. Next, he would unpack his briefcase and organize himself for class.


Michael Ziegler Photography: Lloyd J. Reynolds, calligrapher

I always remember him arriving in a foul mood, or perhaps he was distracted or tired or something else a 16-year-old would not understand. Most of us knew not to press him until he was well into the second half of the class. He took his time getting situated and, once organized, proceeded up the aisle to see what we were working on. And we better be working on something, otherwise we would be admonished, yet again, that we could just as easily be doing nothing at home. When the occasional uninitiated joined the class, with thoughts of a new hobby, they didn’t last long.

“You must hold the pen just so,” he said, as he demonstrated with an enormous calligraphy pen that made two-inch wide strokes. The letters floated effortlessly off his hand and onto the art tablet he set up on an easel at the head of the class; six strokes and a perfect capital M stood anchored to the ground, its solid and yet flourished edges standing tall. A collective groan rose from all of us.

“Why do you even bother if you aren’t willing to do your best?” He would ask, relighting his pipe or taking a few puffs.  Lost in thought for a moment, Reynolds seemed to contemplate his own words, and we could sense him mellowing. And I realize now, forty years later, that we were doing our best, but he pushed us for all we could give.

One of his former students, calligrapher Clyde Van Cleve, once said this about Lloyd Reynolds: “He had little patience with uninformed intuition. He celebrated the beauty of a circling kite and knew the importance of the string.”

The string––practice––was the key to everything, he told us repeatedly. To make a flourish look spontaneous and light on the page there must be true artistic discipline behind it. Only a master can make it look easy. As we bent over our letters endeavoring to meet this goal, slowly his attitude would begin to shift from ill-humor to a call for understanding the pattern of things––all things.

Once warmed up, he would segue into his lecture for the night. It might be about a script he was particularly interested in at the moment, Carolingian or Gothic, but it Golden rectanglewould soon became a lecture about Charlemagne and European history in the eighth century, and then on to how print presses changed not only lettering but writing as a whole, showing us the links between what we write today and the same letters written long before us. Or he would start out by talking about the Golden Rectangle and by the end of the lecture he would encompass Euclid, Pacioli, and Da Vinci. We could feel his enthusiasm rise as the lecture progressed. He took us with him on his journey into art, and history. At fifteen or sixteen I didn’t know who Pacioli was, but he made me want to.

By the end of any given class he was alive and energetic, a champion of our work. Renewed by his own enthusiasm, he would always tell us before we left for the night, “Now, go home, and make beautiful letters.”

Taking a class from Reynolds was an apprenticeship in life. Through him, I began to discover that even the mundane held meaning. It could be true of cooking or any other creative outlet. Anything I attempted could simply be routine but I could, if I wished, turn it into art. It was up to me.


[Storytelling prompts provided by The Scintilla Project. Click here to find out more or click on the icon in the right hand menu. It’s fun. It’s Scintilla ’13]


No Turning Back

Scintilla #7– What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?

no turn backThere are times in our life when we stand at an intersection and more often than not it requires hindsight to know we were even there. Yogi Bera once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” and perhaps that is the best possible advice. Either way, whatever decision we make will irrevocably affect our lives going forward.

And that hot day in June when my husband said to our lawyer, “Yes. Close his easement,”  it unleashed a series of events that would irrevocably change my life.

It might have been the air conditioner blowing a chilly wind that made me shudder, but it might have been that second sense I developed after years of working the emergency room, that second sense that tells us we ought to proceed with caution.

Whatever else I have learned from what followed, one thing is certain. The next time I am tempted to aggressively engage others in any grand design to make things better or to avoid loss and destruction, I will remember that pivotal moment in the lawyer’s office. Because to win sometimes we lose more than we gain.

What made us think, expatriates in another country, we knew enough or understood enough, to enter into a legal battle over an easement?

I do not know the answer to that. but my husband was convinced he would rather fight than give in to neighbors traipsing across our land.

[This is an excerpt from a memoir. Thanks to the fine people over at The Scintilla Project, I edited this little passage, the moment where there was no turning back.]

If you’d like to take part, follow this link or click on their icon in the right-hand menu.  It’s fun. It’s Scintilla- a fortnight of storytelling.

I Don’t Fly Well, Or Rather, I Don’t Land Well

Hurticaine MitchReturning to Costa Rica in the fall of 1998.

The trip had gone relatively well, as flights go, although the weather was a bit rainy when we arrived in Dallas. We got on an American Airlines flight listed as non-stop from Dallas to Costa Rica. Once we were secured in our seats. the captain came on the intercom and informed us we’d be making a short stop en route. Apparently American considered any flight where passengers could not debark, a non-stop flight.

The flight was a bumpy one but we really didn’t think much about it. It is almost always turbulent around Dallas. We watched a movie and a couple of hours later we heard the announcement to fasten our safety belts, straighten seat backs, and put away all electronics. We were due to land in Guatemala City. They also advised us there was a bit of rain and the landing might be rough.

As we descended out of the pitch-black sky, the turbulence increased. The last pass the flight attendants made through the cabin was far more attentive to seat belts and trash than any I’d experienced before. They clung to the seats to keep their balance, and staggered down the aisle lifting blankets from people’s laps, checking to make sure all seat belts were securely buckled. There were sheets of rain pummeling the sides of the airplane by now.

I had a premonition of doom, but I’m not a very good passenger when it comes to landings anyway. Always the white knuckles.

The airport in Guatemala City is located smack dab in the center of town, or it felt like it. As we approached the runway the rain was so heavy it looked like thousands of bullets streaking past the windows. Out both sides of the plane I could see buildings so close I thought I saw people moving about inside. The plane bucked and heaved wildly, first dropping one wing and then the other. The pilot wrestled to keep the plane level, and–I hoped– on the tarmac. But it was too rough. He pulled up at the last moment just before our wheels touched, and we lifted back into the sky banking off and to the right.

The pilot said something on the intercom that might have been Spanish. It sounded as though he was speaking into a fistful of tissues or a sock, nothing but a garbled buzz. The flight attendants did not repeat his comments in English. I finally realized what he said, because we continued to bank and buck until we were in position to make another stab at a landing. This time was worse than the first. The same buildings flew past at supersonic speed, the rain streaked past, and just before crashing, we were rescued when the pilot pulled up at the last-minute, making the now familiar banking turn. Again the garbled Spanish. The Latin gentleman across the aisle from me  turned and said politely, “He says we are going to try it one more time and if he cannot land we will divert to San Salvador.”

I wanted to shout, Well what the fuck is wrong with doing that right now? 

We did this a total of three times before we bumped and skidded up to the terminal.

All Costa Rica bound passengers were required to stay in their seats while the lucky got off and went about their business. My armpits smelled and my only thought was about abandoning ship. If the landing was this bad, what would takeoff be like?

It turned out it was much easier than the landing and we arrived safe enough in Costa Rica later that night.

Over the next few days I gathered from the papers and TV news that we had just flown through Hurricane Mitch, a hurricane so violent it is remembered all over Latin America as a benchmark for major disaster and loss of life.

Photo credit: Hurricaine Mitch: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)
National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)

Storytelling prompts provided by The Scintilla Project. Click here to find out more or click on the icon in the right hand menu. It’s fun. It’s Scintilla ’13

Today’s prompt:

1. Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation; anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip.

Wound Care + Sugar: A Very Sweet Solution

Scoop of SugarWhat would you say if someone told you the fastest way to heal a wound was to pack it with sugar? And what if you lived In the tropics, where infections run rampant and wounds are slow to heal under optimum conditions?

If you are like me, a nurse, at best you would be skeptical and at worst you’d probably think the person was off their rocker. But this is exactly what our vet, Dr. Marco Mora of MediPet Veterinaria, told me to put on our little male basenji’s nasty abrasion. He got it from a terrible accident a week ago last Monday. And when I say nasty, I mean about half the back of his left hind foot was missing, tendons and bone exposed, and penetrating through two of his toes. A gaping hole.

All I could think of when Mora suggested a sugar treatment for a pus infected abrasion was a giant magnet for flies and bacteria, but he assured me this would not be the case. “You are going to be doing the treatment and you are going to see just how effective it is,” he said.

Before I agreed to this, I did some quick research. Chacho’s foot needed rapid treatment; there was no time to waste. Ah, the Inter-webs and their infinite search possibilities.

The method goes back 4000 years to the Egyptians who, it turns out, used honey to treat battle wounds. In fact, according to this New York Times article, the sugar system only fell out of favor with the advent of modern antibiotics.

It seems the sweet stuff has several things going for it.

• It covers the wound completely, protecting it from flies and other external pests

• It is highly osmotic. Hold on. I know this sounds technical, but think about it. Have you ever left sugar out on the counter by accident and found in the morning it had turned to a puddle of water? This is because it absorbs water from the atmosphere. Anything that has a higher osmolarity pulls fluid from a substance that has a lower osmolarity. What does this mean for wound healing? It means that the sugar (or honey) pulls fluid from, not only the wound, but also organisms that might infect that wound, making it a natural bactericidal.

• As stated above, it pulls fluid, reduces swelling, dries the wound, which in turn promotes healing by attracting macrophages—our body’s good guys who come to clean up an area when alerted to a break in the skin, or any infection.

• It increases epithelial tissue growth, i.e. meat and skin.

• It provides a cellular energy source. Growth

According to one site I visited there are negatives, and I suppose to be impartial I will list these here:

• Granulated sugar must be 1 cm thick and be bandaged. No drawback so far.

• Because of the osmolality, the treatment can result in dehydration, protein and electrolyte imbalance. Okay, this is worth looking into.

• The bandages should be changed twice daily to keep the osmolality gradient. Fine.

Well, after four days the chasm in my dog’s hind foot has closed to about two-thirds the size of the original injury. (Photos—before and after— are discreetly placed at the end of this post for those who can stomach this sort of thing).

I have noticed Chacho is a bit constipated. That may be due to dehydration, but it could also be because he is taking Tramadol® for pain, twice a day before dressing changes. Anyone who has ever taken an opiate pain reliever knows that constipation is part of the package. I doubt a basenji would eat prunes, so I just offer him water frequently. I am also feeding him a high-protein dry dog food mixed with cooked and ground chicken parts (home made). I think I will buy him some electrolyte supplements, which would augment any losses he might suffer from the treatment. It would also benefit his fractured bone on the other hind leg. (It was a major accident).

He is healing, bright as a button—even dealing well with the somewhat Elizabethan collar the vet placed to keep him from chewing on the wound. I think he will recover to walk and run again, if not exactly like before, at least a good imitation of that cocky trot he had.

Here is the recipe for his treatment:
2% Betadine (povidone iodine) diluted to half strength with sterile water (this is important, because undiluted, the iodine will actually damage the tissues)
White table sugar— about a teaspoon on a 4 x 4 gauze dressing
4 x 4 gauze dressings
Gauze wrap
Coban® wrap

After carefully rinsing his wound with sterile water (I’m using sodium chloride I got from the vet), I spray betadine on the open wound.  I place about a teaspoon of white sugar on a sterile 4 x 4, spray it with betadine until it is well saturated, and carefully wrap it around the injured area. Then I wrap the leg with gauze, and cover with another wrap of Coban to protect it from feces, urine, and dirt. It also keeps him from chewing on the dressings.

We do this twice a day.

He is an okay patient; I’ve had worse. Although, I have to admit, no wuss in the ER ever bit me. He has done it twice now. But I know he didn’t mean to; it is all very confusing, he is scared, vulnerable, and it HURTS.


Wound on 09 March 2013

Wound on 09 March 2013



Four days later, 12 March 2013

Wound on 12 March 2013


lateral view












17 March 2013




Notice the pink around the wound as it begins to grow derma.



And here, 12 April, after one month of treatment, Chacho’s foot almost completely healed,  skin fully formed and the hair has grown back on his leg.


Image 3
















Other references:


Livestrong: How to Use Sugar to Heal Wounds

Ferrier’s Journal- Sound Hooves-Sugardine

Mold and Mildew: Part of the Unholy Trinity of the Tropics

mold-spore1Several years ago I complained to a neighbor about the mold and mildew blight of the tropics. He announced –confidently– that he didn’t have mold at his house. Mind you his house is just down the road from ours. Not to be sexist, but I immediately had two thoughts: Wow, you must not be a very thorough housekeeper, and, Whoa, your house is even darker than mine, because obviously you cannot see it. Regardless of my neighbor’s verdict, we have battled the Unholy Trinity of mold, mildew and rot while living here these past 25 years.

Our house, which we built with our bare hands, is constructed from two types of wood, Laurel and Kashá, both of which resist rot… and termites— Oh, I forgot, there’s another pestilence, but I’ll leave that for another post.

The mold/ mildew matter was a huge issue for me, and if I had it to do over, I would not have built a wooden house. It’s gorgeous, mind you, but, like a wooden sailboat, the upkeep is constant, washing, sanding, and revarnishing to keep that beautiful wooden look. Like a lot of boat people I was inclined to let the wood go gray in the elements, but my husband is a putterer and likes to keep things shipshape.

I’ve tried all manner of things on the black mold that tends to congregate where the sun shines on the house. And, I’ve also noted that most of it grows on the floor and bottom four or five feet of the walls; anywhere where moisture levels are higher.

Then there is this about mold from the Mold Remediation Information website:

 Mold (sometimes spelled ‘mould’) is a type of fungi of which there are well over 100,000 species. The original thought that molds feed on decaying leaves and wood is only the beginning. Mold will consume anything organic if you add water or moisture: all plant products such as wood and paper which includes paper, drywall, furniture, clothes, flowers (dead or dried); all dead animal products such as house dust, leather, old meat, dog (and cat) feces. Mold tends not to grow on concrete, plastics and resins, glass, ceramic tile unless there is an abundance of dust covering it and good moisture conditions. It is molds digestive result (excrement) that emits a gas that emits that ‘moldy’ smell. Some molds release gas that has been proven toxic.

Molds are a microscopic multi-cellular organism that for years were thought to be plants, even though they consume other organic matter. Then it was discover that molds lack that important plant ingredient, chlorophyll. This discovery has solidly placed mold outside both the plant and animal kingdom. The exact classification of mold has proven to be very elusive to scientists. Considering strange facts such as: mold does not have a stomach, can live dormant for hundreds of years and has been proven in tests to actually have a rudimentary intelligence. It is clear we are dealing with a very curious link in the Earths biota.

We do not have access to the sorts of remediation they recommend as we live at the end of the road in a very rural area. I’m not even sure there are these sorts of services in Costa Rica. I have forged ahead on my own trying to beat the fungi at its own game. It would seem that the artist, Cecilia Caride, either lives in the tropics or has first-hand knowledge of the plague of that paradise. I found the piece quite humorous.Black mold

For a while I used a Clorox and water mix as that seemed to be the accepted method among the expats. No difference. Then I found Parson’s ammonia in a store in San José and we used a diluted mix for several years. It cut the mold alright, but unless the washer rinsed it off (with the rinse water and sponges I always supplied), the mold began to grow off the soap scum. I’ve had any number of locals hired for the cleaning process and no one seemed to need that rinse water changed, no matter how many times I reminded them.

Then, last year I visited my daughter in Australia. She and her husband, like many of the younger generation, are adamant about protecting the environment. For instance, I soon discovered there were no shampoos in the shower. When I asked what she washed her hair with, she said, Vinegar. In fact, that is what they use for, not only their hair, but all their household cleaning. In passing she also said, If you ever have a mold stain in your clothes, soak it in white vinegar.

Well, this was news to me. On returning home to Punta Uva, I put it to use. Not only does the vinegar strip the mold, it retards the growth by changing the PH. Even my newest house cleaner is impressed. When I first suggested it to him, he was skeptical. But after several months of wiping things down with a white vinegar soaked rag, he sees the difference. Yesterday I actually saw him go into the kitchen and get the vinegar to apply it to his rag.  And  the beauty here,  it does not need a rinsing.

I am also using apple cider vinegar to rinse my hair and wash my face. It has cut back on the tropical crud that tends to live on my scalp and gather on my eyelids and behind my ears.

I’m buying the stuff by the gallon.

Post note: Because this post has received so many hits I’ve added a few resource links for those interested.

Spotless: Room-By-Room Solutions to Domestic Disasters by Sharon Lush


DIY Baking Soda Shampoo & Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner – 100% Green & Effective! March 10, 2012 by Sara @ My Merry Messy Life