How We Ended Up as Medical Tourists

So I had a big birthday coming up last fall and told my husband I wanted us to go diving in Costa Rica, AND visit an interesting mission work we knew about there.

Well, it doesn't exactly happen on the beach.

Well, it doesn’t exactly happen on the beach.

Okay, he said.

This simple request is the reason we are now in Costa Rica deep in the Realm of Dental Implants.

Let me explain.

Sam has been putting off serious dental work for years. Recently, as a specialist examined his teeth with great interest, Sam asked what he saw in there. “A BMW,” was the reply.

This launched him on the search for dental work elsewhere. Slovakia. China. Thailand. As you may know, doctors all over the world are getting their training in the U.S., then setting up shop in their home countries and drawing clients from all over the world. The result is “medical tourism” and it is growing at a rate of 15-25% annually.

Sam discovered Doctor Munoz, and his son, Doctor Marco, and their state-of-the-art-dental-implant-specializing clinic in San Jose, Costa Rica. The savings for medical tourists in Costa Rica are between 40-65%.

This would mean spending an older model Chevy instead of a brand-new Beemer.

Sam contacted the clinic, sent scans, and we made plans to leave in mid-November. Sadly, I tweaked a nerve while exercising and we had to postpone our trip until January. We again made plans. Sadly, our length of stay had to be cut in half as he had to be back for a meeting.

This is now a 5-days-at-the-clinic trip and a weekend visit to the mission.

It has been an education, let me tell you.

Our hotel is one recommended by the clinic. “Apartotel Cristina” is a clean, comfortable, airy place with a pleasant staff and a decent breakfast served by the pool. It is filled with Americans, a few Canadians, a couple of Germans, and some Russians.  We assume, since the Russians are here to save money, too, that they are not related to any oligarchs, so we talk to them without fear.

Take good care of them and it's less likely you'll end up a medical tourist in Costa Rica.

Take good care of them and it’s less likely you’ll end up a medical tourist in Costa Rica.

Teeth are the topic of conversation. I mean, REALLY, the topic of conversation. You meet a nice couple at breakfast and instantly launch into how many trips you’ve made or where you are in the process or how many implants or bridges or crowns or bone grafts. It’s astonishing. Who knew that teeth could hold their own in so many conversations?

The clinic is spotless and rather small. Waiting rooms are tucked into corners here and there, with various treatment rooms in between. Televisions are on in each waiting room with the inevitable crime drama with Spanish subtitles. CSI, CSI Miami, CSI New York, Law & Order, Law & Order Terrible Crimes Unit, NCIS, Criminal Minds. I do not know what the Latin obsession is with American crime shows, but I’ve seen Horatio take his cool shades off, then put them on again so many times this week, it’s all I can do not to laugh hysterically when the camera zooms in for the trademark zinger.

We discovered very quickly that if your appointment is at, say, 11 a.m., you may safely assume you will see the doctor within the next 4 hours.

But there is no impatience, no irritation. Not by the staff, not by the patients. The young women assistants with their gloves and masks and the young receptionist with her thick, worn appointment book are calm and smiling. And it is tiring to wait for hours, particularly I’m sure for the many older folks. But wait they do, with very little complaining.                                                                   Patience


  • They are saving thousands of dollars.
  • They are getting an excellent result.

This has been our week so far.

But I must go now. NSIC Ridiculous Crime Plot is starting and I don’t want to miss it.

P.S. Duck Dynasty is here. With Spanish voiceover. It’s a hoot.


Why This is My Year of the Vine

2014There it is. Your brand new calendar for 2014.  All those little squares of pristine days, weeks, months waiting to receive the details of your life.

There’s your journal with its bright, blank pages ready to receive your thoughts on your life.

And if you have read through the One Year Bible, then the fantastic, apocalyptic language and visions of the Revelation are still ringing in your heart:

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’

Ah, the New Year. And how fitting that it occurs just as winter has stripped the trees bare and the world stands stark and rather naked. Exposed. It invites us to do the same. Figuratively speaking, of course. (Did I really need to qualify that?) Decumulate, shed, reduce.

Here in Sonoma County, where I live, there are over 50,000 acres planted to vineyards. I became interested in this world some years ago. As a student of the Bible, I was fascinated by the way vineyards and the fruit of the vine appeared in Scripture from Genesis through the Last Supper through the Book of Revelation.

I read, took classes, paid attention to the vineyards flowing over valley floors and hillsides as the seasons changed. I thought about what was taking place in those vines – and why.

I began to understand why Jesus told so many parables using the rich cultural understanding of the common folk about their vineyard plots to convey spiritual truth.

This is the Year of the Vine for me. The beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking, always rewarding world of farming and vineyards and winemaking.

Many of the vines here are already bare of leaves. The floor of the Dry Creek Valley where I drive to work several times a week is a rust-colored carpet. As the vines go to sleep, the leaves of some varietals still cling to the dark vines. But they too will eventually let go.

Dry Creek Valley. Early winter.

Dry Creek Valley. Early winter.

Next? Pruning.

There is, for me, no season when the vineyard is not beautiful. I suspect Jesus thought the same thing, even on those gray, winter Palestine days when dark, twiggy stumps sat in muddy fields.

Here are some ideas for this spanking New Year:

  • Pay attention. Train your eyes to see possibilities.
  • Worry less. It is an utter waste of time.
  • Pray. Pray more. Prayer changes things. This will never not be true.

I hope you will live joyfully and purposefully in 2014. You may hear the footsteps of the pruning crew and the sharpening of the shears. But don’t resist. True joy and purpose will follow.

At Your Thanksgiving Table

How long since that first Thanksgiving?                                                      Thanksgiving

393 years. Wow. Just think of all those calories.

This holiday is uniquely American in its foods and traditions. And what is its hallmark?  Why,  family, of course.

So here are a few things to think about as you sit at the table today surrounded by the people you love. Or maybe just barely tolerate.

  • Family is a Divine construct. It was conceived by God, designed by God, and, indeed, commanded by God. Go forth and multiply. Adam and Eve decided to obey this time, got busy, and began to do just that.
  •  Strife in families has been present from the beginning. This is an unfortunate (i.e. terrible) fact. The enemy has always had the family in his crosshairs. Why? He understands the power of blood and love.
  •  Family is the incubator of character. Here children should learn how to live, how to properly conduct themselves with other human beings. The family unit is meant to be the foundation of a civil society. More importantly, it is a type of the Church in the loving care of its members – the meaning of “is” here is, I confess, hopeful.
  • That being said, it should also be a place where we learn how to resolve our differences without killing each other in the field.  Our history together, our regard for one another should go a long way toward smoothing the rough patches. When these things are not enough, then we ought to learn how to establish firm, healthy boundaries without a blunt instrument.

“Meant to” and “ought to” are rather pollyanish, kind of utopian, you say? Well, maybe. One of the problems, as I see it, is that too many families are birthed with no goal in mind. When this is the case, kids with a wonky attitude are pretty much guaranteed. When they grow up and end up across from you at the Thanksgiving table, all your gifts of grace will then be called forth. Hopefully. And you will end the day having been tested and not found wanting. Hopefully.

I do pray, dear readers, that your celebration will be mightily blessed:

  • that laughter will be the music of your day
  • that the healing power of thanksgiving will be a balm for every sore spirit
  • that good memories will fill the hearts of everyone at your table

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. Psalm 12:6

Why I Love My Age

This hangs on a wall in my house. It's true.

This hangs on a wall in my home. It’s truth.

My hundredth blog post and a big birthday coincide. Thank you, dear readers, for thinking with me.


I love birthdays.  For each of us, this is the day I entered the world, drew breath, began my journey.

But this one has been weighing on my mind a bit. It is one of those thinking-back-on-my-life birthdays. With a zero on the end. And it feels sudden, like a light so far in the distance that you’re sure it will always be, well, in the distance.

Then, there it is.

Without a doubt I am blessed. Married to a wonderful man for 38 years. Three children who are mature, smart, accomplished adults, serious about their faith. Two daughters-in-law who would be the envy of any mother-in-law.  And two of the most beautiful grandchildren (and one on the way) who are the delight of my life.

So the journey has been on my mind. And how I got here, and the years left on the ledger. Here are a few of my recent thinkings:

  •  Worry is a waste of life. Not just time, but life. It changes nothing, improves nothing. It subtracts life from your life. I wish had done far less of it.
  •  Growing up without a television has made an enormous difference. Our church culture at the time taught that television was evil and having one in your home might keep you out of heaven. While that is unlikely (we don’t yet know), it does keep you from reading. I (and my siblings) devoured hundreds of books as youngsters and we’ve never stopped. Books have imprinted every facet of my life.
  • The two classes in high school that ultimately made the biggest actual difference were (stop here and see if you can guess): Typing and Home Economics. My typing teacher was a small, schoolmarmish woman who ran a tight typing ship. Her mantra? Speed and accuracy. I have both, thanks to her. And I type nearly every day. And then there was Mrs. Avey, pleasantly plump, thick glasses, and the maven of How to Do Things Properly. Those life skills things like cooking, sewing, health, and first aid.  Which I use every day.
  • I realize now that one must be very purposeful in building a family. Damage, injury, fracture, and brokenness are easy to inflict. Loving without strings attached, going the extra mile, not keeping records of wrongs, sustaining the joy in each other’s company – these can be the hard things. Being intentional in family relationships is, I think, not considered enough. Take nothing for granted, I say. Stand on the wall of your family, arm yourself with prayer, and guard it with your life.
  •  I am thankful that age is not what it used to be. My new age, according to reports that come out from time to time and which I always passionately believe with all my heart, is actually a couple of decades younger. Or something. But, honestly, what years would I subtract? That’s a great question to ask anyone wrestling with the age thing. A year is full of so much experience and emotion and discovery and struggle and triumph and growth and revelation. You wouldn’t dare eliminate even one of them, would you? Me either.

I confess that I like the view from this season. Way more wisdom, a calmer perspective, a lot more patience, and a greater willingness to give the benefit of the doubt. That’s the short list. But a good one.

And I am considering Lucille Ball’s advice: “The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” The first two are easy enough. The last one? Well, maybe I’ll just fudge a little. I’m allowed. At my age.

Do you have any words of advice/wisdom regarding growing up or growing older? Share them here.

Yes, said Wordmistress

Oh, dear.

Wordmistress, your faithful companion in the Land of the Well-spoken, must do something most unpalatable. She must revisit a verbal transgressor.

How it pains her.

WM enjoys tackling new conversational challenges. Lord knows there are enough of them.

But this word is like a verbal mosquito. While she may swat at it silently (one refrains from public correction), she is under no illusions that it is not multiplying at a most unfortunate pace.

Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, absolutely.                                                                                   

Really? Really?

Really? Really?

It is the fashionable tic du jour, the new “awesome!” The favorite go-to response in any conversation.

WM, while taking pains to stay current with the news, can hardly stand to view it anymore. Every interviewer, interviewee, commentator, reporter, or bystander suddenly confronted with a microphone feels obligated to say that word.

  • Host:  “Senator, do you agree that the American people are overtaxed, poorly represented, and weary of the heavy hand of government?
  •  Senator, with lifted brows and an emphatic shake of the head: “Oh, ab-so-lute-ly!

While the Senator is not going to disagree with the obvious truth of that premise, somehow it eludes him to simply say “yes.” Why, WM wonders, is “yes” not sufficient?

Does the Senator (or the person with whom you are conversing) think you won’t understand the unplumbed depths of their feelings on the subject?  Or that you will be particularly impressed with a vigorous, four-syllable word?

One can, in fact, be both elegant and emphatic with that one simple response: yes. The short phrase“ I do agree” may accompany “yes” and leave the questioner with no less assurance of the strength of one’s conviction.

Wordmistress will not belabor this point any further. She has now stated her position clearly, twice, and retires to review other transgressions that must be addressed.

It is exhausting standing on the wall while hordes of verbal misdemeanants threaten at the gates.

Perhaps she will nap first.

You may read other engaging posts by WM by clicking on the link cleverly entitled “Wordmistress” in the sidebar. She welcomes your comments.


Why Parents Must be Social Media Savvy

Recently, my husband and I taught a course at our church on parenting and family life.  While updating statistics for one of the sessions, I was struck by the now-absolute imperative for parents: the need to be savvy about social media.

That word, by the way, means shrewd or discerning.                                                              socialmedclock


  • There are more than half a billion internet-enabled devices in American homes.
  • Overlapping use of those devices adds up to an average of 43 hours per day per household.
  • A report in the Washington Post in March of this year states that today’s teenager spends about 7 ½ hours a day consuming media.
  • Among 8-18 year olds, 71% have a television in their rooms.  Only 53% of those households have any established rules for viewing.
  • How many know how to hide what they do online from their parents? 67%
  • How many have given out personal info to someone they don’t know?  55%

And research in 2005 showed one in three 10-17-year-olds surveyed had been exposed to unwanted pornography, much of which included images of people engaged in sex acts or acting out in sexually deviant or violent ways.

 What to do?

  • Understand technology and its shortcoming. Know what social media sites your child’s cell phone plan allows him or her to access.
  • Be sure you have their passwords/access to their online pages or communications.
  • You should be able to limit or disable certain features for added peace of mind. Content blocking software is great, but not foolproof – and certainly no substitute for parental vigilance.
  • Spot check frequently.
  • Set clear guidelines. You might even make a contract with your kids regarding their cell or internet use. Help them see the need to be accountable.
  • Make the rules fit the child. A younger child or less mature teen may require more regulation online than his siblings or friends. Whether or not it seems “fair,” your specialized rules may protect children from stumbling upon situations they are ill-equipped to handle.

These safeguards will be far more effective when you have good communication with your child.  Parents who are intentional about strong relationships with their kids will find navigating the tricky terrain of social media less troubling.

We only get to raise them once. Helping them be smart and responsible users of social media is now, like it or not, part of responsible parenting.

How I Failed a Pop Quiz on Default Behavior

You remember those mornings in high school. Teacher finishes taking roll, stands up and writes on the board:


You’ve been listening in class. Sort of. Taking notes. Usually. Doing your homework. Pretty much.

Now  you’ll prove it.

I failed a Pop Quiz on Default Behavior the other day. Badly.

It all starts when I volunteer to prepare a light breakfast for our Men’s Retreat. This is an annual one-day event at our church.

CTLogoCT is on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa, California. This is vital information.

I get everything ready early in the morning. Fruit, croissants, eggs to boil, Li’l Smokies in the crockpot.

We live exactly 6 1/2 minutes from the church. My daughter, Jessica, who is graciously helping, takes the eggs and sausages and leaves a few minutes before me.

I have just left the house when she calls to say the streets are closing due to a “bike race.”

Uh oh.

Our beautiful Sonoma County is a magnet for wine lovers, redwood tree enjoyers, and bikers. You see bikers frequently on our roads and lanes, pedaling along all hunched over, looking quite serious.

Oh, boy.

Oh, boy.

And every fall there is a huge biking event in our fair county called Levi’s GranFondo. It draws 7,500 participants who spend the day riding the county on staggered courses. Streets are closed. Detour signs, no-right-turn signs, and don’t-even-think-about-it signs sprout early on a Saturday morning.           Don'tEvenThink


It passes right by CT. We had forgotten it was THIS Saturday.

Take Marlow to West College, Jessica says.

On the way, I check a couple of other possible streets to Fulton. Closed. I approach West College, which is just being sealed off.

I am puzzled. They can’t keep me from actually getting to CT.

Can they?

When the traffic person begins waving us through – in the wrong direction – I slow and ask, how do I get to Fulton? She seems flustered and tells me to check streets that, it turns out, I’ve already checked. I explain this, somewhat calmly. Just go, she says finally, with an abrupt wave.

I go.

If only.

If only.

I’m on the phone with my husband, who hasn’t yet ventured into this Brave New Morning. Sorry, I don’t know what to tell you, he says. You can’t help me? Shall I ram the barriers? Helicopter in? I HAVE THE REST OF YOUR BREAKFAST!

At one detour I see a huge group of bikers rush past like a spandex nightmare. The traffic person with whom I plead for help assures me that is the main batch and streets will open soon.

I drive on. At one point, I see a biker stopped at a yard sale. Something about it infuriates me. He is looking at tchotchkes while GranFondo and his weird-helmeted friends are seriously fouling up my morning.

It occurs to me that I’m in Dante’s 10th circle of hell without a bicycle.

On the phone with my husband again. You could have cut through the gas station on the corner near the church, he says, having already arrived at CT. This revelation makes me feel like an idiot. It should have occurred to me. When I was over there. 35 minutes ago. And the fact that he is already at the church is Just Wrong.

Gaskets. Blowing.

Gaskets. Blowing.

Frustration is beginning to loosen the little gaskets in my brain.

Ten minutes later I’m back at the gas station, circumventing the detour, and pulling into the CT parking lot.

Inside, my daughter has the serving area prepared, smokies are heated, eggs are boiled, a pot of coffee is ready.

Instead of being grateful and gracious, my 40 minutes of being detoured and waved off and no-right-turned blows the gaskets and I’m teary and furious and, well, it was ridiculous.

What’s wrong with you? A tiny piece of rationality has survived the tempest in my brain. Why didn’t you simply stop at some point and think about what you were doing? The operative word here, by the way, is think.

Fact is, I was reminded of some important truths after this little test:

  • My opinion of the circumstances had no bearing on the fact of the circumstances.
  • Stopping and thinking would have given me time to cool down, consider the options, and communicate calmly.
  • I would then have been able to arrive at my destination having accepted that an event was occurring over which I had no control.

Now I have all that messy repenting and apologizing to do. And I will marinate in my chagrin for the rest of the day.

And by the way:

  • Shouldn’t we be wise enough to recognize how the enemy exploits our default behaviors?
  • Shouldn’t we also be wise enough to modify our default behaviors?*


Time to be better prepared for the next test.

*Not rhetorical questions. I’d love your thoughts. Please click on “Leave a Comment” above.

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