The Open Book Test

The Open Book Test is a n experiment.  You know me, by now. You know I’ve been a journal-keeper for 35 years.  Maybe you read some of the posts from my first diary, under the heading The Red Diary Project, a few months ago.

My intention, throughout 2015, is to post entries from my lifetime of journals, one every other Monday. I will choose an entry from the current month, written the number of years ago that corresponds to the calendar date of the post.  Today, on January 19, I have chosen something from January–19 years ago, in 1996.

My purpose is not to hurt or embarrass anyone—least of all myself—so, of course the entries are edited. Sometimes the whole truth is too much of a good thing. Names may or may not be real, or may appear as just initials.

What, then, is my purpose?

I don’t have a good answer for that, yet.  I just like the idea.  Maybe, the answer will come to me as I go along.   For the life of me, I can’t think of one single reason why I shouldn’t at least begin…

* * * * *

When: January, 1996–19 years ago
Where: Guaitil, Cost Rica
What: I’ve been in Costa Rica for 6 months. The town’s water pump broke, and, for days, we have only had hand-drawn water from old wells.
Age: 25

They say that the ditch is dug, and the pipes are nearly laid, and tomorrow we should have water from the new well. This morning Lorena and I went and washed at Irma’s, because she has a well right by the wash sink. I drew buckets of water until my hands were red. We were using the washing machine and there were 2 of us – imagine what it must be like to wash alone, by hand, drawing water from a well.

As I have thought 100 times before, I thought again: it is the poor who understand the rhythm and mysteries of life. I have sat in the laundromat while my clothes spun, closed-up in a machine that sits in a row of machines. When the machines stops, the clothes are assumed to be clean, and into the dryer they go. Cleaning itself becomes a mystery. It is done in the dark washer that you must not open while you wait. Today I knew each bucket of water, and I already know which clothes have which stains where. Then Irma gave us lunch and Lorena and I went to Santa Cruz.

Ok. Now. Yesterday I had a life-changing revelation in the shower, where I have a history of finding life-changing revelations. I was taking a shower at Dona Daisy’s, because she has her own water pump. I was thinking this: I am a great writer. I am great and brilliant. Just because I haven’t had anything published, does not mean a thing. There are tons and tons of published books and poems and magazine articles and plays that I would die of humiliation to have written. I write better and see more clearly and interestingly than half the people who make their money writing. I always think to myself, “Well, if I become a writer and am well-known and loved, then it will all have been worth it. If my loans go into default, and I’m starving and miserable, it will be worth it–if I become a great writer.”  Everyone thinks it’s charming that Emily Dickenson was off her rocker, Einstein got bad grades in school and Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear.  But they didn’t think it was one bit funny, I’m sure.  They didn’t know that everyone would end up loving them.  So it’s wrong to think, “This will be worth it if I become a great writer.” I AM a great writer. If I never make a dime, that’s on a different chart than my ability. Right. I shouldn’t think, “maybe I will be a writer” because I already AM one. A good one. Anyway, even if I don’t have millions to inspire, I have my sisters. I have my friends. I have my family and loved ones to write for, and that’s probably better than writing for millions, anyway. Right? So what does this mean for me? Well, I’m scared. But I will proceed, because I’m a young brilliant writer and it’s all worth it. The loan companies can’t lay a finger on my soul.


The Liebster Award


I am honored to have been nominated for the Liebster award by my friend Anna Nolan who writes the clever blog, Flaming English.  Anna was nominated by Sean at

The purpose of this award, as I understand it is, to permit bloggers to draw attention to other blogs which they, themselves, enjoy. I freely confess that I am not a model citizen of the blog world, but here is a short list of blogs that I appreciate, and am delighted to nominate for the Liebster Award.

Tiny Cat Pants
Fueled By Vegetbles
Secondhand Surfer
Red lips and city lights

What the nominees do if they accept the Liebster Award
* Acknowledge and accept the Liebster Award by leaving a comment on the blog where you were nominated
*Copy the Liebster logo and paste it onto your own blog
*Inform your nominees by leaving a comment on their respective blogs
*In your blog post about the Liebster Award:
1.  Link back to the blogger who nominated you
2.  Answer the 11 questions put to you by the person who nominated you
3.  List 11 random facts about yourself
4.  Nominate, and link to, 3–11 other blogs which you enjoy and which have fewer than 3,000 followers
5.  List 11 questions for your nominees.

The answers to the 11 questions I was asked:

1.  What would you like to get out of blogging?
I blog because it’s way for me to share my writing with friends and anyone else who is interested, without requiring them to purchase anything.

2.  What is your claim to fame?
My claim to fame is that I’ve kept a diary since I was 9.

3.  What matters to you most?
Windows.  Preferably open windows, but windows of any kind.  Fresh air.

4.  What is your guilty pleasure?
Summer sunbathing.

5.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Costa Rica.  I used to live there and I have every intention of going back—there or to Nicaragua.

6.  How do you like spending your free time?
Warm weather free time: Doing outside things like walking, gardening, basking, brushing the cats
Cold weather free time:  Writing, baking, knitting, crocheting, brushing the cats

7.  What is your most abiding memory?
I have volumes of them.

Maybe the time, in Nicaragua, that I had to get into a small fishing boat with 3 men that I don’t know, or starve to death in the jungle.  Then, instead of tying me up in the plastic hose that was coiled there and hacking me up with their machetes, they hopped out of the boat (plastic tube = breathing tube!), clawed up a few lobsters, and used the machetes to slice open a lemon.

8.  Who is your favourite writer?
Today:  Miriam Toews
In general:  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9.  What type of music do you like?
I like happy music of any genre except country or heavy metal (ps. They are never happy anyway).  I dislike whiney/sad music in any genre.

10.What tends to annoy you?
I hate being treated like I’m stupid.  I hate even suspecting that I’m being treated like I’m stupid.

11.  What quality do you most admire in people?
I admire people who can be honest without being unkind.

Eleven Random Facts About Me

  1. I grew up in a Mennonite family on a farm in Pennsylvania.  I had braids and looked exactly like Laura from Little House on the Prairie (which is the only tv show we were allowed to watch) until I was about 13.
  2. I have a college degree in Theatre with a minor in Womens’ Studies.
  3. I lived in Costa Rica for 15 years and learned to surf. One day at Avellanas, Robert August lent me his longboard. It’s a great story…
  4. I’m allergic to mangos
  5. Sometimes I dream things and then they happen.  Never ceases to freak me out.
  6. I have 2 step-kids, 3 ex-step-kids and 1 god-daughter, spread over 3 countries. And 4 cats, and 0 kids.
  7. When I’m really mad, I burst into tears.  I hate that.
  8. I don’t get warm enough to take off my sweater until it’s 80 degrees F.
  9. I alternate reading books in English, Spanish and Italian.  The Spanish ones take me a long time and the Italian ones take me forever, but I don’t care.  Almost everybody I know has read more books than I have, for that reason.
  10. I’ve always wished I could raise one eyebrow.  I can wiggle my ears, and even wiggle them one at a time, but I cannot raise one eyebrow.
  11. I like every food I’ve ever eaten except potato soup. Nasty.

The 11 questions to my nominees

  1. If you could do anything, what would you do first?
  2. What makes you the maddest?
  3. What will always make you laugh?
  4. Is it alright to wear pink and red together?
  5. To which animal do you think you are most similar?
  6. What’s your favorite quote?
  7. What did you get for your last birthday?
  8. If you had to give up caffeine or alcohol, which would it be?
  9. How old were you when you realized that other people were not like you?
  10. What, if any, religion do you subscribe to?
  11. What’s your motto/mantra/anthem?


Remember Barbara: Afterward

Now, you have suffered with me through the disappearance of my friend, Barbara Struncova.  During the month of December, as I shared her story, I heard from many of you who knew Barbara, and I wove as many of your words as I could into the tale.  I would like to share the following things that I was unable to include:

Barbara may have inherited, or have been set to inherit, money from the sale of a house that belonged to her grandmother, or some other family member, in Europe. “Jim” may have known about this.

As I understand it, Barbara’s family has stated that they do not wish to pursue the case any further.

I contacted one of the investigators that Barbara’s uncle hired, and expressed my interest in this case. He read my message, but he has not replied.

A friend who was having coffee with “Jim” and Barbara one afternoon near the time Barbara went missing, remembers ”Jim” making the comment that Barbara’s uncle would support them. Barbara rolled her eyes and smiled.

No one told Barbara’s mother about Barbara’s disappearance. Her mother learned about it by reading it in the newspaper.

“Ivan” still lives in Costa Rica. I contacted him, requesting help to understand Barbara’s family’s wishes in regards to her disappearance. He politely declined to correspond with me.

No one is able to tell me whether or not the blood on “Jim’s” flip-flop was ever determined to be a match with Barbara’s family.

“Jim” was deported from Costa Rica in 2008.

While “Jim” was in the USA, he stole his brother’s passport, and used it to return to Costa Rica. He used it again to leave in 2010. There is no immigration record indicating that he was even in Costa Rica at the time Barbara disappeared.

“Jim” may have been unable to get his own passport because of criminal offenses in the USA, which may include the failure to pay child support and the writing of fraudulent checks.

“Jim” never suffered a heart attack, did not nearly die, and has not ever been a smoker.

After their investigation in Costa Rica, the Czech investigators hired by Barbara’s uncle flew to the USA, where they watched “Jim”’s house for a short time.

The FBI cannot become involved unless the Costa Rican OIJ specifically requests help from the USA. No such request has been made by the Costa Rican government.

Stories that ”Jim” has used over the years to explain Barbara’s disappearance:
She went to travel in the Caribbean with an ex-boyfriend.
She went to Panama.
She returned to Czech Republic.
Her family quietly shuffled her into rehab for a drug habit.
She had a secret life dealing in/smuggling drugs.
She owed the drug dealers a large sum of money, so they killed her.


I dream of justice, but my personal quest is for the truth.
Justice will come in one form or another, born from the belly of Karma.
While we wait, we must live patiently and well, telling true stories to each other.



Read “Remember Barbara”

PDF of “Remember Barbara”

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.