Assisted Living


Unsteady on his feet, the old man wanders the hallways of his prison searching for an exit.  Like a gagiit, the  Haida indians’ lost soul, one carried away but whose spirit is too strong to die, he caroms from one world to another in his solitary limbo.

January in Costa Rica


Blinding yellow clusters against an azure sky: the Cortez trees are in bloom again this January.


I’m supposed to be packing; my flight is on time.

But the zipper of our past is stuck, and I can’t get this bag open to save myself.

River of Stones: 01 January 2012

Listening to you on the phone this morning, I know now you are truly old. It’s not your voice,

that still sounds years younger than you are.

It is the fatigue I hear… and a fear of the future.

Adventures in Alternative Medicine- Costa Rican Style

Sometimes our bodies simply rebel, forcing us to quit our usual abusive treatment of them and pay attention. At least that’s what mine did about six months ago. It all started with the wonderful inversion table Alan built me. I felt hanging upside down would correct the high right hip I’d lived with for years, a nursing injury from lifting patients in countless ICUs and ERs over a twenty year period. And it did that. One day I actually felt (and heard) the adjustment; old adhesions ripped apart and—shunk!—my hips were even.

But then back spasms started. It turned out that my upper body no longer knew what to do with even hips. All those years my left back compensated for the right high hip. The spasms got worse. Eventually, I began to have a sore left shoulder and pain radiating down my arm. At times it felt like someone pounding on the nerve with a ball peen hammer.

I went to Rahel, a physiotherapist in Puerto Viejo. She made good progress using ultrasound, TENS, digging at pressure points, and eventually the pain ceased. In July I traveled to Oregon to see family and then in September to Australia to see other family and had no pain on those long flights, something I never could do with that hip.

Then, a month ago the pain came back with a vengeance. I could not sit under a fan because it exacerbated the pain. The medial nerve was inflamed, any breeze on it made it feel like it was on fire, and my thumb, index, and middle finger had gone completely numb. I had nightmares of ending up like my grandmother who complained about “drafts” in the car if any of us cracked the window to get some fresh air. If she was with us, we traveled in stifling heat as she sat rigidly erect in the front seat, a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck.

By now the physiotherapy wasn’t working anymore. Rahel was concerned and wanted me to see a doctor. I think she thought I had something seriously wrong. Cancer. Something bad. It got to the point where I could no longer write at my computer. Reaching forward with the left arm caused incredible spasms in my armpit and upper arm. I was living on anti-inflamatories and eventually muscle relaxants. Boy, those are a trip. Talk about a preview of Alzheimer’s. I’d think of something I needed in the kitchen, walk 15 feet and then stand in stupefaction wondering why I was there. But, they allowed me to sleep, and I was desperate.

Finally I began searching the Internet for help. That is when I found Vicki Skinner’s blog. Vicki has done an inordinate amount of research into Costa Rica’s alternative medicine community. There I found licensed chiropractors, acupuncturists, not to mention a host of medical doctors one of whom, a dermatologist, Alan went to to have his skin lesions examined. There were lists of recommended practitioners and people’s comments about treatment they’d received. I made an appointment with a chiropractor in San Jose.

He had great referrals and practices out of a cave-like office just off Paseo Colon in downtown San Jose. His studio is lined with physiotherapy machines and aviaries with tropical birds. He ushered me into his office and after an all too brief interview adjusted my neck and spine. Then he led me into the big room, laid me down on workbench, and started a TENS machine on my neck and upper arm. I felt as though I’d entered T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. There were probably eight to ten people lying on benches, their feet propped up, and the whir of machines and screech of birds filled the air.

Occasionally he would pop his head out of the office where he was treating other patients and ask, “You okay?” to which I replied I was. I saw him twice and it helped a bit. Then we went back to Punta Uva, a long four-hour drive. Within days the pain was back. While I liked him, I did not think he really listened to me and what my issues were. My fingers were still numb and my shoulder still hurt.

I dug around in Vicki’s blog and found what sounded like the perfect practitioner, Eugene MacDonald. I was about to call for an appointment, when I found message on her blog from someone saying he had just died. The week before. Crap!

I thought I’d try acupuncture. Maybe I had an electrical problem. I called a Chinese practitioner who speaks only Mandarin and Spanish but figured I’d muddle through. I got a message machine and left a message. He has yet to call back. I forged ahead.

Next in line was a Canadian/ Costa Rican man named Daniel Frankson. The description of his services was short in Vicki’s blog but it also said no one had complained about him. I called. He answered and I briefly told him what was going on. I made an appointment.

Alan and I made the four-hour drive to San Jose a week ago Sunday to be at his office at ten Monday morning.

Kairos must have been in the air that day. Kairos (καιρός), according to the dictionary, is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment) and signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. I went into Frankson’s office open for anything, willing to try anything to fix me.

Frankson is a physically fit man, bald, and with piercing gray eyes. It’s hard to say how old he is. It doesn’t matter. He shook hands with Alan and invited me into his office to sit. He opened up a screen on his big desktop Mac. I glanced on his desk and noted he also had an iPad and an iPhone. I could tell we were going to get along just fine. He took my vital statistics, age, DOB, and then turned and said, “So, what’s the trouble?”

I gave him a complete rundown from the nursing injuries on to the present. Then I stood and said, “And, I think my left shoulder is lower than my right.”

“Yeah,” he said, “by about an inch and a half.”

It’s hard to describe in detail all of what happened in that first session. He adjusted my neck and spine, and he adjusted my shoulder and my shoulder blade, which were both “out.” Then he had me lie on a padded exam table. He raised my left arm and blocked it with his. “Keep pressure,” he said, and while pressing on my arm, he proceeded to touch places on my body with his other hand. When he placed his hand on where my right kidney would be my left arm went weak. I was unable to block the force of his arm. “Ah, kidneys,” he said. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my kidneys, but I also knew he was talking about Chinese medicine, not allopathic.

“So, what’s this about the kidneys?” I asked. He continued to probe around muttering to himself.

“You are the second daughter, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes. I have an older sister.”

“I thought so,” he said. “You are very strong–a warrior–but right now you are weak. All this is coming from the right side, the important side. In Chinese medicine the right side is controlled by the father. What’s going on with your father?” oh, God. Where to start?

For the next hour we talked. He is an extraordinary individual and told me things about myself only someone who has known me well could know. He needled me with acupuncture needles on my right side, points below the collarbone, forearms, palms of my hands, calves, little fingers, and a big toe. For the first time in years when I envisioned my right side as a color it glowed golden fiery rays instead of a dreary gray to black.

I saw him three times in the next three days and returned to Punta Uva. Since then my back has quit hurting. My shoulder still bothers me a little, but I am no longer frightened of it. I know now it will get better. I can now write at my computer, reaching forward does not cause spasms.

Objective changes, I peed like a race horse all day and lost maybe three pounds, making me feel much more energetic. My right eye, always droopy from a bout of Bells palsy when I was little, has popped open, the corresponding eyebrow is also raised to a normal height. Subjectively, I feel taller, stronger, and more spiritually aware. When I go out on a walk the world appears brighter and details pop out at me. The writer’s block is beginning to lift.

In short, I feel alive.

Write About What You Know (or, not)

 Write about what you know. That’s the advice we’ve all been given. On the surface this seems obvious, even trite, but I now know writing about what I don’t know can be vastly more intriguing and rewarding.

About a year ago, I posted a blog entry about my Uncle Elliott, who was killed in the last days of WWII. I wrote it for several reasons.  Yottie, as my mother has always called him, had a huge influence on my life even though I never knew him; he died in 1944, five years before I was born. My little brother, Thomas, shared his name (as his middle) died in a shooting accident in 1967 when he was only fourteen. Coincidentally, my mother was the second to the last in her family and I ranked the same in mine; two women who lost younger brothers with the name Elliott. When my son was born people suggested I honor Yottie by naming my son after him. Call me superstitious, but there was no way I was going to do that. As it turned out, my own son nearly died during his youth, so put it down to Kismet or providence, that he lived when two other generations of men did not.  There is a new Elliott in the family, although not a direct descendant of mine and a different spelling, so I believe the chain is broken. Little Eliot lives in Spain, not too far from Margraten, Netherlands, where his namesake is buried.

Yot has always been in my memory, a spirit who cannot or will not allow people to forget him,  so it should not have surprised me when the U.S. Army contacted my mother 65 years after his death to say they had some papers of his they wanted to return to the family. That was the subject of my blog entry.

About three months after that an online literary magazine editor contacted me wanting to publish the blog entry as an essay. We  corresponded, and with some minor edits the piece appeared on January 5, 2011, with a new title, “Dog Tags.” Then things got interesting.

The same day the essay was published I got an email from a complete stranger, copied here as it appeared in my inbox:


Hi! I’m registered on a forum for a military style video game group. Recently, someone from the Netherlands posted on the History section of our forum asking for information regarding Elliott Corbett, II. He said that he adopted a gravesite in Margraten, Netherlands. We’re in no way affiliated with his unit or the Army, but out of boredum and curiosity I hopped on and did some research, then googled the stuff i found, which eventually led me to your blog post. It’s quite amazing that your blog post about recovering his Dog Tags. It’s quite amazing that that post was published on the very day i decided to do this research.

Here is a link to the post he made:

I hope that by getting in touch with him, you can perhaps gain more information about where your ancestor is buried, and he get the information he’s requested about the gravesite which I presume he paid a bit to help maintain.

Let me know if anything comes of this, I find it pretty interesting.

More than interesting. Of course my family knew where Yottie was buried and who had taken care of his grave in years past. A tradition since WWII, caring people of the Netherlands adopt a grave, tend it, and coordinate with the family of the fallen. My grandmother, devastated by Yot’s death, visited the grave and the caretakers back in the 1960s, but after her death our family lost contact with the caretakers who retired or died. Over the years my mother assumed the tradition had waned and the graves were maintained by the government. This appeared to be incorrect, according to the letter I received.

I went to the military forum and found the original post:

I’m Chris and I’ve recently adopted an american grave in the City of Margraten, The Netherlands. The soldier’s name is Elliott Corbett RII and his registration number: 11099747. His unit: 109 INF 28 DIV. He has died on 19th november 1944. I think that must be happened in the neighbourhood of Wiltz, because at that time this Division was stationed in Wiltz, Luxembourg. This is the only information which was given to me from this cemetry.

I’m looking for more information about Elliott Corbett RII. Like pictures and other documents.

If anyone can help me to complete his story, please contact me.

I contacted Chris and my family corresponded with him for weeks, sharing photos of Yot, our family, and what my 92-year-old mother, and last surviving relative, could remember about him. Chris says he wants to create a webpage honoring Yottie so people do not forget the faces of those who died in that war. I know Yot is for that. Through all this communication I learned that my uncle did not die in the Battle of the Bulge, as I’d always been told, and that his death was a source of confusion for some time. My mother says that originally the U.S. Military notified his parents of his death, crushing his mother, my grandmother. Then came a message saying someone had seen him in a hospital recovering from wounds. There was hope, confusion, and a frantic search from a distance, all this done by mail or phone, and in wartime the lines of communication had to have been tenuous at best. Ultimately, my grandfather tracked down some high-ranking officer in the European theater who revealed the truth. Yot was dead.

But that is not the end of the story.

Last week I got a message from Camroc Press Review‘s editor informing me that he has nominated my essay, “Dog Tags,” for a Best of the Net award for nonfiction. I am humbled and honored by the nomination and believe my uncle has a great deal to do with this.

Yot refuses to be forgotten.


Elliott Ruggles Corbett II, age 17 or 18.

Right to left, back row, Alfred and Henry; front row, Rosina and Elliott

Quack! Quack!

My book review of Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn is live at The Internet Review of Books.

I loved this book. Aside from the title, which has to be one of the longer titles in publishing history, the book is full of interesting information about our oceans and where all our plastic goes, but it is also a meditative and thoughtful book about wanderers and seekers.

“1992. A container ship from China steams toward the United States and along the route encounters gale force winds. Tossed about in “the six degrees of freedom… what naval architects call the six different motions floating vessels make,”  the ship with its towering stack of containers begins to pitch like an inverted pendulum…” To read my complete review click here.




An essay I started a few years ago is in the current Bluestem online quarterly. “Kingfisher” stemmed from a sighting of  one on a morning walk in Costa Rica, where I now live.

It is interesting to me how essays evolve. That one started out as pure observation and a memory from my childhood. The piece sat in my Scrivener project titled Essays in Progress and there are quite a few in that file. I’d pull it out now and again and look at it.  I felt it lacked focus and really, taken on it own, it had no point. I have a lot of those kinds of pieces, too. Over time, though, it began to dawn on me that the sighting and the memory did have a point, and the essay grew from there.

I cannot imagine trying to crank creative essays out on a schedule or deadline. Mine seem to have a life of their own and their evolution is slow. Three, four or five drafts is not uncommon for me. And, even when I think they have a point or they are finished, editors do not always agree with me. So, I was very happy this one found a home.

I am in quite good company at Bluestem. The spring issue is full of wonderful poetry, fiction, and, of course, nonfiction.  Click here to see all the contributors.


Magical Realism, or Gabito Meets the Mexican Mafia

According to my dictionary, magical realism is a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.

After this week, I would venture to say this definition is largely a North American attempt to grasp events as they naturally occur in Latin American countries. Authors may simply be writing about actual events and readers refuse to  believe it isn’t a fantabulation.  In other words, it’s just what went down. Take for instance, the case of two accused Mexican drug dealers currently being held in Costa Rica.

It all started on October 10, 2010, when a light plane went down in a gully shortly after takeoff from a small airport in the seedy suburb of Pavas, just west of San José. When police and emergency teams arrived and accessed the plane, wedged next to a roaring river, they found 170 kilos of cocaine spilling out of the fuselage where baggage is normally stowed. They transported the pilot and passenger to the hospital where they were treated for their injuries. (I believe the pilot died, but haven’t followed that part of the story.)

The following day, two Mexican nationals named Martinez and Mendoza were arrested by the Fuerza Pública (police) in the northern border town of  Peñas Blancas. According to the daily La Nacion, they were riding all terrain vehicles, baggage in tow. The assumption was that they were attempting to flee across the border into Nicaragua. The two men were handcuffed and brought back to San José.

It appears Martinez and Mendoza are the owners of the airline Aerolíneas Turísticas de América with offices and hangars at the Tobías Bolaños International airport in Pavas, an airline that only six months ago was broke. So far, this is just another criminal story that could appear in any newspaper anywhere, especially here.

The San José court decided the two were a flight risk and placed them in preventive detention, something akin to being held without bail in the USA, although in Costa Rica there doesn’t have to be any indictment in the works. They were held in La Reforma, a maximum security prison that recently has had a rash of murders and one failed prison break, but that isn’t part of this story.

Then, on May 10, 2011, seven months after their detention, Judge Kattia Jiménez Fernández, of the Pavas Criminal Court, ordered the two Mexicans released and placed under house arrest. Her reasoning, the prosecution had failed to file charges against the two men.  This augment was advanced by one of  the defense lawyers with the last name of Villalobos Salazar, not to be confused, and this is easy to do, with their other defense attorney who has the last name Villalobos Zamora.

When local residents discovered a condominium in the tony neighborhood of La Sabana was the chosen pad for the two Mexicans, they organized protests. Several other locations were bandied about with the same results. In the meantime, newly appointed Vice Minister of Security, Celso Gamboa, presented the Pavas judge with a written reprimand for her decision. It failed to dissuade her. She was then threatened with a judicial investigation by the attorney general’s office. At this time it is unclear whether that will proceed or not, but if it does it is sure to be slow.

Then, replacement Pavas criminal court judge, Joaquín Hernández, removed Villalobos Salazar from the defense team. Apparently, in the course of things, a long-time police officer of the Fuerza Pública ––the same officials who bagged the two Mexicans in their flight from Costa Rica–– told the court that he had been under pressure by Villalobos to change his story.

Los Dos Villalobos have maintained their clients were not really fleeing Costa Rica the day after the plane crash in Pavas, but rather on their way to visit family in Mexico. One has to ask about the wisdom of traveling the full length of Central America on an ATV , but this was their story and they were sticking to it. By the end of last week the replacement judge in Pavas had rejected as truth that version of their travel itinerary.

But, there was a delay in ordering the men back into preventive detention. The police officer who accused Villalobos Salazar of coercing him to change his testimony had to be reappear in court to clarify exactly which Villalobos had approached him. It turned out to be Villalobos Zamora not  Villalobos Salazar, so the judge reinstated the one and fired the other.

The Mexicans remain in La Reforma’s maximum security unit with preventive detention orders until August 2011.

I only bring this story up to illustrate that while the literary device of magical realism, “.. an aesthetic style in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even ‘normal’ setting,” we can see that one only needs to report the facts to carry it off.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez might have said it best when he noted, “My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.” Or, in the vernacular, you cannot make this stuff up.




Mother’s Day Quotes (Repost)

Hello Mothers of the world.

I don’t know about Spain or Costa Rica or Australia or Japan, but in the United States it is Mother’s Day on Sunday. I am sending every mother I know, and love, a greeting and a few quotes about mothers which I thought were nice (I particularly liked Aristotle’s take on it).

Some of you may be new mothers, some of you may be old(er) mothers, and at least one of you may be an expectant mother. We are all tied by a common thread and so,

Happy Mother’s Day!

God could not be everywhere and therefore he made Mothers
~old Jewish Proverb~

My mother had a slender, small body, but a large heart – a heart so large that everybody’s joys found welcome in it, and hospitable accommodation.
~Mark Twain~

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
~Elizabeth Stone~

Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate.
~Charlotte Gray~

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.

The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.
~Henry Ward Beecher~

You may have tangible wealth untold;/Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold./Richer than I you can never be -/I had a mother who read to me.
~Strickland Gillilan~

Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.
~William Makepeace Thackeray~

A mother understands what a child does not say.
~Jewish Proverb~

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.
~Spanish Proverb~

~When a woman is twenty, a child deforms her; when she is thirty, he preserves her; and when forty, he makes her young again.~
Leon Blum

Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same; and most mothers kiss and scold together.
~Pearl S. Buck~

And one added by my daughter’s mother-in-law:

Children hold their mother’s hand for a while, but her heart forever.

I hope all of you mothers do something nice for yourselves this weekend.