Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Final Lessons (Part VII)

I thought I’d end this series with five brief lessons. Here goes!

It’s all America

I’ve stopped referring to the United States as “America.” Although we all learn that there is North America, Central America, and South America, quite honestly, when you say “America,” I think you’re talking about my home country. However, Central America can also be called “America.” I suspect the United States cornered the market on being the America, and I could probably pontificate on how and why, but I won’t. Living in Central America has reinforced the idea that I should just refer to where I live as the States.

Being surrounded by women who are shaped like you gives you confidence.

It didn’t take me long to notice all of the brown women in Costa Rica were short with wide hips. Panamanian women were more diverse looking, but most of them were just as short with wide hips. That’s how I look, and growing up, I really didn’t have anyone who was shaped like me. A lot of the time, I felt like a short, squat, fat girl. But seeing Central American women wear whatever they wanted at the beach or on the street helped me gain a bit of confidence about my own self. I’m fine the way I am, and I can wear what I want.

People will project their fears onto you if you let them.

While Dwight and I were away, a few people commented on how I’d “abandoned” my children. The “children” they were so worried about are nineteen and twenty-two. I thought they were joking, but one continued with “They still need their Mama.” After this happened a few times, I stopped defending myself. The way I see it, people’s comments always demonstrate more about their own fears, insecurities, and jealousies and less about me and what I’m doing. Plus, I know what real abandonment looks like, and it ain’t when your parents take an eight-week trip.

There are many ways to show care but doing nothing at all means you don’t care…about something.

Years ago, I got into an argument with my former therapist about this. Dwight and I discuss it frequently, and I’m sure he still disagrees lol During this trip, though, the concept was solidified.

While I was away, I could only speak with iPhone users easily. If you had a Galaxy or something else, then you had to download WhatsApp so we could talk. Several friends did this. Others did not because we communicated in other ways (Viber, social media, email, etc.).

Now, there is another group of people who I didn’t talk to for eight consecutive weeks because they didn’t download the app, leaving us with no way to keep in touch. I know there could be a million reasons why, but I firmly believe that if you know I was out of the country, and you chose not to engage (even though I asked you to get WhatsApp several times), then there’s something you don’t care about. Maybe our relationship is not a priority. Maybe you don’t care about talking and finding out how someone is doing (immediately). Maybe you don’t value virtual conversations. Whatever it is, there is a lack of care.

There’s no such thing as the “perfect” situation.

We stayed in an Airbnb in both countries. In Costa Rica, we lived in a house in the mountains. We were so high up that I could almost reach out and touch the hawks that flew by every afternoon. Because the owner had two mirrors, we woke up to a 360-view of the mountains every single day. However, it was noisy. A rooster crowed every day from about four in the morning to at least five in the afternoon. Someone’s car alarm sounded every afternoon around three. And because we were in the mountains, every so often you’d hear screeching brakes from a semi or old car. It wasn’t perfect.

In Panamá, we stayed in an area called Casco Viejo in a brand-new apartment. We were in walking distance from touristy shops and trendy restaurants that played music from Friday through Sunday. We were a $2-5-Uber drive away from two malls. We were minutes away from grocery stores that sold familiar products, such as Tide, cranberry juice, and trail mix. However, it was noisy. The apartment wasn’t just new, it was still being built. That meant Monday through Saturday, we were awakened to hammering, sawing, and yelling from seven in the morning until five in the evening. Making phone calls or attending virtual meetings were arduous tasks. Likewise, because we were in walking distance of restaurants and bars, we were also within hearing distance (from the terrace) of every type of music you could imagine from all directions.

This trip reinforced the idea that something will always have to give. There will always be something that will annoy you about places (or even people). The idea is to know what you can live with and go from there.

Agree or disagree…let me know what you all think.

Special thank you to each and every person who has read, commented, liked, or shared any of these posts. I’m very appreciative ❤



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Rethink your Rhetoric (Part VI)

A vacation can be however long you want it to be. But not everyone knows this. I know because of the feedback I received from friends and family when they found out we’d be gone for eight weeks.

Friend A: Are you going to get a job there?

Me: Ummm I have a job already.


Friend B: How will I talk to you?

Me: Ummm the same way we’ve been talking. Zoom, Google Duo, FaceTime?


In-Law: Don’t work too hard over there!

Me: I gotta work so I can pay for this trip lol

In-Law: Yeah, right. Don’t even try it.

Me: 😬 ha-ha


Friend C: What are you doing over there?

Me: Working.

Friend C: Doing what?

Me: 🧐 My job.

This trip and others’ responses to it reminded me of a term I came up with a few years ago: #RethinkYourRhetoric. It was a way to remind myself and others to think outside of our societal and self-imposed boxes.

Many people I talked to have one idea of what a vacation is. It’s 3-8 days. You save your money, leave, and return (sometimes tired).

But that’s not the only way you can see another place, especially in times when most companies are fine with remote working and while millennials seem to be paving the way as digital nomads.

Depending on your position and job’s expectations, you can work from anywhere, which means the world is literally your oyster.

This type of travel also allows for the following:

  • Working. Dwight and I worked just like we would in the States—Monday through Friday. In fact, I’d argue I worked a little more because I shaved off two hours by not working out religiously and watched very little TV. My workday began around seven in the morning and ended at varied times in the evening, depending on if we had to cook or shop.
  • Relaxing. Unlike traditional vacays where you’re running around trying to see all of the things in a set amount of time, extended travel helps you to view surroundings in a relaxed frame of mind. Every weekend, Dwight and I took a road trip to another part of the country and returned back to our Airbnb refreshed and ready to work at our jobs.
  • Immersing. A longer period also means you can immerse yourself in the culture. Meaning, you can practice and improve upon speaking the language and also learn and live the country’s customs. There’s nothing like learning Costa Rica doesn’t use plastic bags for shopping, while translating the cashier’s words and angry tone after you’ve bought a bunch of stuff and don’t know how you’ll get it home.

I never advocate for someone doing what I’ve done. That’s not what life’s all about. However, I will always encourage others to rethink their rhetoric. Most of what society teaches is to keep you in a bubble, and once you’ve mastered those lessons, you’ll keep yourself coloring in the lines.

See what happens if you think about something a different way. See what happens when you rethink your rhetoric.


Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: “Crazy,” “Stupid,” “Selfish,” and other Judgments (Part V)

When I decided to commute to a job 360 miles away, my cousin was like “Kathy, that’s 360 miles away. Are you crazy?”

I did it anyway. When I decided to quit the same job, another family member offered unsolicited advice about why I was leaving. In her opinion, the reasons I’d shared didn’t warrant resigning.

That’s when I realized everyone will always have a judgment about who you are and what you’re doing, so it’s best that you get grounded, know what you value, and then live by that compass.

I’ve already explained how much I value freedom. It took me a long time to consistently live by that value, and just when I became solid in my understanding of who I am and how I want to move in the world, COVID-19 plagued the globe.

So, while cooped up at home, I began Corona Chronicles to process what I was observing. “You’re Stupid!” was about judging others because they’re not doing what you want them to do. When I wrote it, it was common to spew venom at and about those who refused to wear a mask or shelter at home.

As the year wore on, I recognized people’s opinions about how to act during a pandemic were shaded in nuance.

Pixabay vector

For example, my cousin had a backyard wedding at the end of 2020. Dwight and I showed up masked, but by the end of it, we were barefaced and hugging people. Months later, the same cousin traveled to bury her grandmother. I guess someone said something to her about it, because later, she ranted on social media about how she’d never fly during a pandemic just for a vacation, deeming her flight for a funeral as a necessary pandemic trip.

We can justify anything, while judging everyone else, right?

This year, it seems we’ve switched to calling friends and family stupid, selfish…and maybe even crazy if they don’t get vaccinated, and depending on the news channel you watch, the same terms apply for people who do get vaccinated. Instead of suspending judgments, we seem to be increasing them, with global health or government manipulations as justification.

What does this have to do with us living in Central America for eight weeks? Well, I’ve thought at length about if I need to share my health choices. Do I need to passively reveal my vaccination status? Do I need to explicitly display the results of my COVID-19 tests? Do I need to qualify or refute CDC guidelines?

I’ve decided the answer is no. I stopped proving myself to others years ago, and I’m not about to start back now. Plus, it doesn’t matter. Someone out there is gonna think we’re crazy, stupid, or selfish no matter how I frame it.



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Patience (Part III)

I’m writing this as we’re headed to Puerto Viejo. We are stuck on the side of a mountain because, according to Waze, something is obstructing the road. We don’t know what or (God-forbid) who it is, but we are forced to sit here.

And I am forced to be patient.

Even though I’m on Claro, Costa Rica’s network, my phone flashes a big E…no signal. I can’t even spend my time mindlessly scrolling social media, something I would’ve done if I were stuck in traffic at home.

As I sit here, I’m wondering if I had to leave the country to learn specific lessons. This is only Day 3 of our trip, but I’ve had to be patient since we first began this journey. On April 12th, our Jet Blue flight was cancelled, and we had to quickly find a new one on United. This required a ton of patience, especially because our flight was scheduled for 6:30a, and I received the alert at 3a.

When we ordered breakfast sandwiches at the airport Starbucks, our eggs were frozen; I had to take them back…twice. Typically, I would’ve gone off on each one of the baristas, but I didn’t. Whether it was the ashwagandha in my new probiotic that kept me calm or the meditation I’d been doing, either way, I exhibited patience.

In both situations, there was little I could do. If we couldn’t find a flight, we would’ve waited until we did. At Starbucks, I couldn’t jump over the counter and make my own breakfast sandwich. Well, I guess I could’ve, but then you would be reading a different kind of post.

I suppose you don’t have to leave the country, but sometimes you do have to engage in different experiences to level up certain skills. For patience, I think you must be put in situations where there are little to no alternatives.

In front of us, there’s a man transporting three kid-sized mattresses on top of his Toyota. He’s gotten out of his car no less than three times—once to remove the side ties holding the mattresses, another to ask the trucker in front of him what’s happened, and another to walk a few cars ahead to see the “obstruction.” Eventually, he stopped getting in and out his car, and instead, illegally drove in the other lane to be ahead of everyone, where he was still stuck.

He is not patient. And I imagine, if I was in my home country, I wouldn’t be either.

But today that doesn’t matter. I’m here. I’m waiting. I’m forced to be patient. I hope to maintain this lesson when I return home. We don’t need distractions. We need patience.

postscript

I could’ve named this article law of allowing, silence, or whatever else. My larger point is that sometimes, we need to leave our comfort zones to learn specific characteristics. For example, when my father died, I developed a deeper level of compassion that had been, up until that point, challenging for me to feel. I couldn’t have learned compassion by simply sitting at home, reading about it, and trying it out with family and friends. I had to be thrust into a situation that required it.

Written 4/16/21 (We’re home now).



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Routines and Other Self-Imposed Creations (Part II)

When I’m at home, I have a routine. I do some type of workout four times a week. Afterwards, I write in my gratitude journal, I light incense and meditate, and every so often, I do a tarot card spread. Then, I start my regular workday.

While I was in Central America, I rarely did an organized workout. In Costa Rica, it took two weeks for me to roll my yoga mat out on the upstairs patio and practice some poses. In terms of moving my body, Dwight and did several walking tours and hikes, lasting at least three hours. In Panamá, we took one to three-mile walks around the neighborhood during the week. And I thought to myself: isn’t this exercise? Not to mention, my diet significantly decreased in calories in Costa Rica. This was mainly because we didn’t have immediate access to a grocery store and sometimes underestimated the amount of food we would need for the week.

Instead of writing down five things I was grateful for each day, I started being grateful in the moment. For example, while I was doing yoga, the mountains surrounded me. That was dope, and I was grateful, right then. Oftentimes, I’d stand in the shower and think about how fortunate I was to be able to travel to another country, while maintaining material things back home (e.g., house, cars, etc.).

I didn’t bring any incense because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to light it, and it took me three weeks to pull a tarot card because I didn’t feel the need. Whatever I wanted to know, I intuited it.

Living this way reinforced something a medium told me last year. According to her, my spirit guides said I’m too regimented. They said I don’t need to sit down and meditate and do everything in such an orderly way. This message wasn’t just for me; she said no person needs to schedule time like this. It’s unnecessary. And now, I see what she meant.

This message was affirmed as I listened to a podcaster. She said, “If I don’t meditate in the morning, my day doesn’t go right.” I wondered if this was true. Does her entire twenty-four hours hinge on meditating for fifteen minutes? That’s a lot of pressure.

No doubt, there are times we need to center ourselves and become clear about our intentions in this world or get in touch with whatever deity we praise. But we’ve also created a system that we rely on a bit too much to live life. Consequently, this can cause us to forget to…live life.

While I was away, this idea was further affirmed through a conversation with my sister, who is Muslim. She decided not to celebrate Ramadan this year. She realized she was only doing it because she was Muslim. I saw our conversation as a clear message. Whether you believe in organized religion or not, you can make anything religious and then lean on that thing, the same way you would the teachings of Jesus or Allah.

Should I move my body every day? Of course. Do I have to spend exactly X number of minutes four times a week ensuring I do? I’m not sure. I’m starting to see this as a Western ideal we’ve created because many of us sit around too much. I’m now leaning more toward the idea of moving in ways I enjoy to remain active and mobile. I like riding my bike. I like practicing yoga. Sometimes I should pick up the pace a bit to work up a sweat. But I shouldn’t get myself into a frenzy if I don’t. It’ll be okay.


Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: A Confession (Part I)

Dwight and I have been living in Central America for eight weeks. We spent four weeks in Costa Rica and four weeks in Panamá. This series isn’t about the touristy stuff. If you want to read about that, then head over to our collaborative blog Garlands Abroad.

This series is about my personal feelings, what I learned, and what was reinforced about myself and my existence in this world.

Let’s start with a confession/not confession.

Dwight and I had been planning a long stay in another country since we thought you-know-who was going to be president. It started with a casual conversation centered on what we’d do if he-who-shall-not-be-named won. People had begun having dangerous conversations in the States, and we live in the South where racism and other thoughts consist of more than media sound bites and empty threats. Dwight suggested buying a gun; I suggested leaving the country. We planned for the latter.

As you know, Biden won but we still decided we wanted to leave. We’re both free-spirited in that way and didn’t see it as a big deal. The only issue was the limited places that would allow US citizens to enter. Initially, we decided on Croatia, but long story short, we ended up with Costa Rica and Panamá.

My husband and I are different, so we handled leaving differently: He told his job he wouldn’t be in the country. I didn’t. I’m more of an ask for forgiveness type of person combined with a who cares mentality. I kept thinking, who cares if I’m sitting in my home office in Jacksonville or sitting in an Airbnb miles away, as long as I’m doing my job effectively, which I did, by the way. I had a student win second place in a research undergraduate conference, I successfully wrapped up Spring semester, and I began and almost completed Summer semester.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t tell anyone.

I contacted close friends and family, whom I assumed would want to know where I was. A handful of people knew this was a planned trip; others found out the morning we were leaving the country. I did it this way for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to hear anyone’s comments about our plans. I’ve learned that others’ opinions do sometimes affect me, depending on who it is. I get angry very quickly when people think they can offer unsolicited advice and tell me things I didn’t ask to hear, instead of just wishing me well or asking details. I don’t like being angry, so I’ve learned to do what I want and either tell people while I’m in process or after the fact. The second reason is because we had a failed Croatia trip, and I didn’t want to make approximately twenty-five calls and texts explaining to approximately twenty-five people what happened should this next trip not manifest.

Even though I went through all these changes, I’m still not a great secret-keeper, and I have an affinity for IG. To satisfy these two truths, I only posted about my trip to stories for the first three weeks. I saved feed posts for regular stuff, like info about my student and some beautiful Mother’s Day flowers I received. While my former director and a co-worker did see these stories, neither said a word.

Once Spring semester ended, I posted regularly.

Whew! There’s my confession/not confession. The next five posts will dig deeper into a few things I’ve learned while I was away.

Writer’s Workshop: Improve FLOW by Removing 3 Words

I love writing that flows. When I read a book, I like to feel as if I’m riding a wave or listening to a smooth melody where the notes come together in concert to create beautiful harmony. When writing flows, you don’t want to abandon it. In fact, you may re-read sentences just to appreciate the beauty.

How do writers combine words to create flow? One way is to follow a specific rule. Now, I know in the last Writer’s Workshop I told you to dismiss rules, but I should’ve added the word sometimes.

So, here’s the advice: Remove these three words as much as possible: that, adverbs ending in -ly, and the.


THAT is considered a filler word, meaning it just adds space on the page. As much as possible go through your writing and try to delete “that.” It will make your writing and message much cleaner. Here’s an example:

She had made Daddy promise that he would come straight home.

*She had made Daddy promise he would come straight home.

Do you see what I mean? The word “that” doesn’t add more meaning to this sentence. It just increases your word count. This isn’t to say you never need “that” in writing. Sometimes there’s no way around it. But if you can do without “that,” remove it.


ADVERBS ending in -ly can also be cumbersome. The rule here is to replace -ly words (i.e., quickly, smoothly, etc.) with actual descriptions of what you’re talking about. Here’s an example of replacing adverbs.

“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled sheepishly and nodded approvingly.

*“Well, I guess I’ll sit out here and keep you company. You sure look pretty.” He smiled and nodded at approval of my dress.

Sheepishly and approvingly drag the sentence along. Here you have two choices: remove the adverb altogether or remove the -ly and add descriptions instead as this author did.


THE is a little trickier, which is why I’ve left it for the end. Although it is natural to use “the” when speaking, a lot of times this small word can bog down your writing. “The” is not always necessary. Don’t believe me? Go check out your favorite piece of writing. I bet “the” is used sparingly. Here’s an example of what I mean:

            We cut out the clothing we thought would look good on me.

            **We cut out clothing we thought would look good on me.

Here, “the” isn’t needed. If you can understand the sentence without using “the,” then ditch it.

I hope these three tips help to improve your writing, but I suggest trying one rule out at a time and only after you’ve written a draft. Editing and writing at the same time can oftentimes destroy your flow.


*The first two examples come from Mbinguni’s Looking for Hope, which I also recommend reading.

**The third example is from Sister Souljah’s A Deeper Love Inside.

Both were written perfectly in their books. I added the fake, bold first draft example.


If you’re interested in hearing more about my personal writing process and flow, then my talk with the Pasadena City College English Department may interest you: PCC Visiting Writer K. E. Garland.

Monday Notes: Navigating the Change

Hey good people! I took a thirty-day break from this site because I’ve been working on a new one. And, regardless of what people think of my abilities, I can only do one thing at a time 😉

The new site is called Navigating the Change, and just like it sounds, it’s about all things menopausal.

A few months ago, you may remember me revealing that I was having some menopause “issues.” I divulged that info in a post called “Control in the Midst of Too Much.” Well, that was September. Since then, my life got hella interesting. And by interesting, I mean awful. I was ill-prepared for the turn my body took without my permission.

I spoke to every woman I was close to about this issue. I was raised in a family of older women, so I silently harbored anger for not one soul mentioning these bodily changes to me. In between, I read and researched all types of things to understand what was happening and how I could learn to function.

It was a lot.

Then, I got mad all over again. Menopause is a huge shift in women’s lives that can last anywhere from five to ten years. Did you hear me? FIVE to TEN years! That’s a lot of years to be sweaty and irritable, and as I read and experienced, there’s more to it than being sweaty and irritable. In fact, some people may never experience that, while others have all of the things.

Either way, I launched a new site last week for all of the above reasons. Navigating the Change will include the following:

  • stories and poetry from women who have experienced menopause at any phase,
  • photographs of real women thirty-five and older who are fearlessly being themselves (because older celebrities are not the only ones who can look fantabulous),
  • information from doctors,
  • information from wellness experts,
  • workout videos specifically for women over forty-five and specifically for Navigating the Change,
  • low-sugar, low-salt, and low-carb recipes from food bloggers and chefs,
  • product reviews so we know what works and how well, and
  • a monthly feature from yours truly called Diary of a Menopausal Woman.

If this is something that sounds interesting to you, then subscribe so you can receive updates that will post 2-3 times per week. Read what you want and discard the rest.

If this is something you think would interest someone else, then please pass the information along.

If you have something to offer or you want to partner because you have a business that supports one of the goals I’ve mentioned (e.g., a story, poem, photo, doc/well expert info, recipe, or product review), then Submit to Navigating the Change so we can collaborate.

If none of this sounds good, then that’s cool, too lol That’s one of many reasons I thought a separate blog might be beneficial.

Just to be clear, I’ll still be blogging here. The new site is more nuanced, themed, and collaborative.

Follow Navigating the Change across all platforms (except you know where because of you know what):

Monday Notes: Parenting from the Heart

When my youngest daughter, Desi was about nine years old, I volunteered to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas to her third-grade class.

That afternoon, I thought her teacher was going to introduce me. She didn’t. Instead, she pointed toward the chair and asked the students to sit “crisscross applesauce” and listen to me.

I sat. I read. I left.

Desi was a bit miffed.

“How come you didn’t say you were my mom?” she asked later that night.

“So, you wanted me to say, ‘Hi everyone! I’m Desi’s moooom?’” I exaggerated.

“Well, not like that. Maybe just tell them in a regular voice.”

Immediately, I knew what happened. It wasn’t just her teacher’s fault that no one knew who I was. It was mine. My oldest daughter, Kesi would’ve never wanted her friends to know I was her mom coming to read to the class. But Desi was different. She always seemed outwardly proud of me and whoever she saw me as. She wanted people to know I was her mom. I should’ve recognized this.

That’s what I think parenting from the heart, a phrase I read on Talking All that Jaz, means. One way to parent from the heart is to see your children for who they are.

It took a long time for me to get that. Even now, sometimes Desi will stop me and say, “I’m not my sister,” and I have to acknowledge that and readjust my conversation with her.

Parenting from the heart also requires not only recognizing your child has a distinct personality, but also allowing them to be their own person with the type of guidance they need, not the type of general guidance found in parenting books or the type of guidance passed down from your great-great grandmother (who didn’t grow up with cellphones and other distractions). I’d also like to add that you can’t be the parent to your child that you needed. You have to be the parent they need. And that requires seeing them for who they are.

For example, Desi is a highly intelligent, free-spirited, eccentric person. Though she was accepted and primed to leave the nest, she decided not to attend college. Dwight and I understood we shouldn’t force her to go and we shouldn’t put the same expectations on her coming-of-age process that were put on us. It’s a different time period and she’s a different person. Instead, she is free to explore her life and determine who she wants to be as an adult, not who we want her to be. Her sister has a similar freedom, but the process looks different. They both know we love them and they have our full support.

Parenting from the heart can be liberating. In my opinion, it’s a softer approach that frees both the parent and the child from outside influences. There seems to be a deeper connection that feels like I see you and I trust you to create your own path, instead of I made you and you should follow this pre-made journey because I’ve been here longer and know what’s best. The latter seems a bit arrogant.

Finally, parenting from the heart requires strength because watching children go left when maybe it was easier to go right can be scary. But I think it’s worth it. I’m no psychologist, but I suspect that people who learn it’s okay to make a so-called mistake when they’re younger, grow to be adults who live fearless lives. Let me know if you have a citation for that.

What do you think it means to parent from the heart, instead of the ego? Let me know in the comments.

And if you’re in the States, Happy (almost) Mother’s Day! May you always have heart-centered interactions with your mother or child ❤