Poem: Good Luck, Infection Control!

The Backstory

Every work site has its Brian.

The prankster. The jokester. The comedian. The disrupter.

Brian, an early-thirty-something-going-on-age-eight, loves his practical jokes. He calls the nurses’ station from a corner of the room and pretends to be a difficult family member, demanding information from the nurse, twisting her words and her thoughts until she becomes flustered and frazzled, whereupon he gives himself away with his hoots of laughter. The conversation always ends with the nurse slamming down the phone.

He squirts vials of saline across the room, the saline arcing overhead in a fluid stream to hit an unsuspecting nurse. She looks around in surprise, only to see everyone industriously charting. Including Brian. His presence makes any nurse instantly suspicious, however innocent he may appear.

He dons fake accents and pretends not to understand English. For hours.

And hours.

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Poem: Shoneen

The Backstory

Shoneen is one of those special, irresistible people. With her dancing eyes, generous smile, bubbly personality and genuine sweetness, you love her the instant you meet her. At least, that’s what happened to me – and, as far as I could tell, virtually everyone else we went to school with. Being around Shoneen just makes you happy.

We met at Cunha (“COON-ya”) Junior High School; through eighth grade and high school, we shared our secrets, talked nonstop, and got the giggles. I felt lucky to be among her best friends.

Together we learned that Peppermint Schnapps taste very yummy at the time, make your head oddly woozy soon after, and probably wasn’t worth it the next morning. Hey, maybe Bailey’s and Cream would be different! (It wasn’t.)

Our high school chemistry study sessions invariably turned into chemistry parties. We would meet at one of our houses, ostensibly to grapple with moles and gas pressure and molecular equations, but really to make and eat lots of Snickerdoodle cookies.

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Poem: Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

Dakota and Katy

The Backstory

“I’m never getting married!”

Dakota, my husband Martin’s best friend, had made the assertion his entire life. From the time Dakota was old enough to take an interest in girls, he said it: I’m never getting married!

He enjoyed many long, stable relationships over the years, but was always firm and unwavering in his resolve: I’m never getting married!

And then one day, he met Katy.

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Heading Home: Travel Tales

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin and I had decided to wear comfortable Tevas on the plane home, rather than our heavy hiking boots, which were now expertly stowed in our very-full travel bag. Feeling perky in my Tevas and socks, I step out of the hotel room, ready to head to the airport.

Martin and Dakota eye my footwear. “Er,” they both murmur doubtfully. “Are you, er, planning on going out like that?”

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Nuevo Arenal: Moya’s Place

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

I was starving. I’d had entirely too little food these past few days.

Bound for Liberia, we had left our ecolodge near the Nicaraguan border, and had retraced our way down 40-km of bone-chipping dirt road into Pital, back past the small town of El Castillo, and into Nuevo Arenal. It was here that we stumbled, ravenous, into Moya’s Place, an inviting open-air restaurant. The wall facing the street isn’t even a wall, it’s just… a wide opening. The interior walls sported brightly colored murals depicting Mayan and Aztec scenes.

A friendly waiter hovered helpfully over us as we ordered our food. I requested a papaya drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked encouragingly.

“Sure!” I answered.

The waiter beamed and made a little note on his tablet. He turned happily to Martin, who ordered a mango drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked uncertainly.

“Sure!” Martin answered.

“Hmmmm…..” the waiter said doubtfully, pencil hesitating over the tablet.

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Boca Tapada: Playing With Fire

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Marco had suggested a nearby hike through the forest. If I understood the Spanish correctly, we could make a simple 2 km loop, or (taking a left-hand fork in the trail) a longer 4 km loop.

Well duh, that’s easy! We’ll do the 4 km hike, thanks. The little trail led us through the jungle, its edges dotted frequently with placards identifying various plants with both scientific and common names.

Occasionally a big scary sign in all capitals would appear: “CAUTION! BULLET ANTS!” which always launched Martin and Dakota into an agony of indecision. They were both powerfully drawn to the fierce tropical ants. They desperately wanted to see them, so they nervously peered around the forest floor and poked long twigs into every nearby hole, prodding the cavities to see what might swiftly emerge.

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Boca Tapada: Kayaking With Crocodiles

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin, Dakota and I waved cheerfully at our host, Marco, as he drove away, leaving us alone in the remote Costa Rican jungle.

He had driven us an hour up isolated dirt roads, bumped down tiny dirt tracks, and dumped us off on the muddy banks of this small river. It would be up to us to find our way back to the ecolodge, kayaking down this, the Cas Del Mar River, into the Tres Amigos River, and then onward to the great San Carlos. From there, we hoped to spot the take-out site for our ecolodge, buried in the dense jungle.

If we missed it, we would end up at the Nicaraguan border.

Going kayaking, baby!

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Boca Tapada: Hungry

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

It was our last morning in Arenal – we would shortly be heading northeast, towards the Nicaraguan border, to stay in a remote ecolodge in the depths of the jungle. Martin went out early, as usual, to photograph the soft sunrise light. I got up early-ish, as usual, to make coffee and sit in the rocking chairs, enjoying the bird songs and the volcano-and-lake view. Dakota got up late, as usual, staggering out with bleary eyes and his shock of hair standing on-end, reaching blindly for the coffee.

On one of their more memorable camping trips to the desert, Dakota needed afternoon coffee, but was uninterested in going to the trouble of actually brewing it. So he famously spooned the dry coffee directly into his mouth, chewed it up with focus and determination, and swallowed the bitter granules down. Dry.

Gritty? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes. Worth it? Apparently, yes!

The man needs his coffee. Do not stand between Dakota and his coffee!

So the morning found Dakota and me sitting companionably in the rocking chairs on the front porch, binoculars in one hand, coffee in the other, Dakota slowly coming back to life – when suddenly he cried, “Toucan!”

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Arenal Rappelling: Extremo! Maximo! Super!

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

In Monteverde, we had been accosted with huge billboards and countless flyers, hounding us to take extreme, adrenaline-filled adventures through the canopy. Zip-line across yawning chasms! Bungee-jump from high cliffs! Tarzan-swing from dizzying heights!

“EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!” screamed the signs.

No thank you! We preferred wandering through the quiet cloud forests, listening to the music of tropical birds rather than the shrieks of pumped-up people.

And yet… here we were, in Arenal, signing disclaimer “We won’t sue you if we die” forms in the front office of Pure Trek, a canyoning company that offers adventures for stupid plucky folks like us.

Adventures like, you know, risking your life rappelling down the thundering throat of waterfalls. EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?


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Arenal, Costa Rica: Paradise

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of our rental house in El Castillo, deep within Costa Rica’s tropical rain forest. It was early morning, and the porch faced Arenal, the iconic cone-shaped volcano which towered over the smooth glassy lake before us. Coffee cups in one hand, binoculars in the other, we scanned the lush foliage for Toucans, one of our elusive must-see birds. It was here, in Arenal, that Toucans lived. It was here that we’d have our best chance of seeing them.

View, across the road from our rental house in El Castillo: Arenal Volcano

No Toucans so far, but then we’d only just arrived. We’d tumbled in the night before, tired from our long drive from Monteverde up in the mountains, to discover a kitchen full of tiny black ants, pots and pans covered with thick furry mold which no amount of scrubbing could entirely remove, an empty propane tank, and a dry swimming pool.

Oh, and a flat tire on our car.

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Monteverde: Close Encounters

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were wandering slowly through the gorgeous cloud forest of Santa Elena’s Hanging Bridges near Monteverde. Today was supposed to be our “relaxing” day. Nothing was scheduled, other than this little trip through Hanging Bridges, and a night hike at 6 PM. Maybe we’d even take a nap this afternoon! So we savored the tangle of greenery, searching for tropical birds, monkeys, and sloths, and rejoicing in the forest’s unbelievable beauty.

The lush cloud forest trail in Santa Elena. How can one see a bird through all that?

Rounding a corner, a long narrow bridge would, unexpectedly and thrillingly, open up before us. We would step onto the bridge as the ground below us plunged away; as we crossed, we would find ourselves suddenly high up in the trees, in the midst of the canopy.

Martin and Dakota cross a hanging bridge, high up in the trees

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Playa Grande: Navigating Our Way

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We needed money for the turtle-viewing tour later that evening, so we were headed to Tamarindo. Martin was driving; Dakota was navigating.

That was the problem, right there.

Dakota prides himself on a special sixth sense, an infamous and supposedly flawless sense of direction. Maps? GPS? Directions from anyone or anything? Dakota eschews them all in favor of the tingling of his neck hairs, a little whispered voice inside that says, “Turn here!” and his alleged ability to tap into the earth’s magnetic field and feel his way.

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Playa Grande: Teeming Life

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We had made the long, hot drive from Liberia to Playa Grande, located on Costa Rica’s blistering Pacific coast.

Martin made all arrangements for this trip, and every lodging – every single one – was down a minimum of six miles of dusty, rock-strewn roads. Seriously! A minimum of six miles. No sissy paved roads for him, no sir! No gleaming high-rise hotels, no swanky condominiums. We would turn off the pavement onto bone-rattling, pot-holed roads, kicking up dust, and I’d settle in for six miles – or more, often it was much, much more – of bumping and jouncing.

Martin had it all planned out.

But our small, welcoming hotel in Playa Grande was a little piece of paradise. It had pretty green gardens, a sparkling blue swimming pool, a brightly-painted patio and private hammock for each room, and two sweet and friendly dogs.

We also discovered that paradise comes with ants. As Martin and I dropped our bags in the room, we noticed a scattering of red ants making forays across the bathroom floor. I don’t mind spiders on the wall or a few ants on the counter, as long as they stayed out of our luggage and away from us. I hoped they understood the rules.

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Liberia, Costa Rica: Poised to Explore

Martin and I were standing in the middle of the cavernous, empty San Francisco International Airport terminal, the only people in the vast room, our bags piled around us. It was very early in the morning.

We watched Dakota, Martin’s best friend and our traveling companion to Costa Rica, stumble into the terminal, head down, concentrating on his phone. We waited in the echoing space, grinning at him, waiting to be seen. Dakota sank onto a bench facing us. Martin’s cell phone pinged that a text message had arrived.

I’m in the international terminal, Dakota’s text read.

So are we, moron, was Martin’s reply.

A moment later Dakota looked at his phone. Then he groggily looked to his left… then looked to his right… and finally looked up.

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Poem: Happy Birthday, Janet

The Backstory

Janet is one of those rare, amazing nurses who can do it all.

She is our “lunch relief” nurse. Her job is to show up every day at 11 AM, check patients’ blood sugars, and watch each nurse’s patients while the nurse takes a half-hour lunch break.

It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds.

As we rush around in the morning, falling further behind, we start glancing at the clock. Is it 11:00 yet? Is Janet here? And as soon as she steps onto the floor, she is bombarded.

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Poncho: That Kind of Dog

The chocolate labs, Poncho and Lefty, frisked about, splashing through puddles and skidding through mud. My friend Carol was walking her dogs along the river’s upper trail in the pouring rain.

That’s right. I said pouring rain.

She’s that kind of dog owner. Totally wacko committed. What other kind of friend would I have?

Both dogs are both more than a little ball-crazy (I’m looking at you, Lefty!), lightning-fast brown blurs when they run, and unreservedly sweet. But Poncho, handsome doe-eyed Poncho, is the trouble-maker of the two. At home, Poncho is the one to get into the trash, chew a shoe, steal a sandwich. At the river, Poncho is the one to eat the horse poop, roll in the fish guts, stumble over a rattlesnake.

He’s just that kind of dog.

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Poem: Teaching In Samoa

The Backstory

I was a 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, teaching human biology and general biology in Samoa, a coconut-tree-fringed, green dot-of-an-island in the middle of the gloriously blue South Pacific ocean.

I loved it there.

I loved the turquoise lagoons and lush vegetation and brilliantly colored flowers. I loved the papaya and mango and banana trees, laden with delicious fruit. I loved all the chickens and pigs wandering freely around, scratching and rooting through people’s yards. One resourceful hen took up happy residence in my bedroom, laid a clutch of eggs, and proudly hatched out ten fluffy chicks. I loved it.

I loved watching Samoan boys shimmy breathtakingly high into coconut trees to pluck its fruit. I loved watching Samoan girls skillfully and artfully weave baskets and placemats from coconut fronds. I loved the food. I loved the people. I loved the languid pace, the warm nights, the silvery-peachy color of the lagoon as the morning sun rose above the water.

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Poem: Cassie The Wonder Dog

The Backstory

Cassie is one of those special dogs.

Exuberant. Sweet. Smart. An agility champion. A devoted companion.

A very, very serious ball-chaser.IMG_2913_01

Put a tennis ball in your hand, and Cassie’s whole demeanor changes. She freezes. She cocks her head, fixes the ball with her eyes, lifts her foreleg in a classic German Shorthair Pointer stance, pointing with her whole body, starting with her nose. She quivers. She wants that ball. She will chase that ball. And if you don’t throw it fast enough, she starts to yip.

When I say “yip,” I don’t mean cute little puppy noises. I mean ear-splitting, brain-piercing, eye-watering, high-pitched shrieking noises that jangle just about every nerve in your body.

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Three For the Price of One!

I’ve never been very good at clothes shopping.

I just don’t seem to have a sense as to which clothes are cute or stylish. I invariably find myself browsing happily through racks of coordinating polyester outfits, thinking, “These are cute!” – and then look up to find that I’m surrounded by blue-haired ladies, who think those coordinating polyester outfits look very fashionable, too.

It’s a little disturbing.

Martin tells me over and over: “When you enter a particular department, look around! If it’s full of blue-haired ladies, get out!” But I never seem to learn.

This isn’t even a recent problem, induced by hormone imbalance. It’s not that I’m nearing a certain age and my wacky hormones are urging me to go check out the Old Lady section. No, even when I was 20 years old, I was rushing to snatch the last pair of checkered pants with the elastic waistband away from the old lady with a cane.

She was hobbling as fast as she could, but I was young, and beat her to it.

I mean, come on. What’s wrong with me?

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