Monday Notes: About Europe

Disclaimer: I realize all European countries are not alike. The entire continent is not a monolith. However, I have visited six European countries over my lifetime, and there seem to be a few commonalities.

TEENY-TINY THINGS

Europeans like things small. This ranges from coffee to living spaces. Our Zagreb Airbnb was 400 square feet; that’s the size of two dorm rooms or a garage. Maybe I’m set in my big-ass American ways, but even if I was alone, that wouldn’t be enough space. I’m a little over five-feet tall and around 135 pounds; the showers in both rentals were too small for me to wash my hair or shave my legs. I found this interesting, especially in the Netherlands, where the tallest people in the world live! How does the population function in capsule-like spaces? 

SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS

A Dutch Uber driver found out we were from the States and shouted, “Yay, Trump! Yee-haw!” in a facetious way. In our Rotterdam Airbnb, the owner asked us to use the heat sparingly, because “it’s not that cold outside, because of you know…climate change.” We met a thirty-year-old biracial woman from the UK who wants to visit the US, but is afraid because she “doesn’t want to get shot in the street, minding her own business.” And a Croatian Uber driver began a conversation with me about the “race” and “gun problem” we have. According to him, he wouldn’t even know how to obtain a gun in his country. He would have to “find someone in the underground, like the mafia, and even then, know exactly who to speak to to get a gun.” 

FRESH BREAD AND MEAT

If you like bread, then go to the Netherlands. The bread is freshly made, and it is evident. One time, we bought a loaf of bread on a Monday and by Wednesday or so, it was moldy. When we’re home, bread stays “good” foreva…and that’s probably not a good sign. If you like meat, then go to Croatia. That’s all we found in the grocery store: red meat and chicken. I had fish when we went to Hvar, which is off the coast; otherwise, meat is what’s for dinner there. But be careful of fillers. We bought some ground beef, and you could literally see and taste the filler. Well, that’s what we think it was.

SALADS

Both countries offer salad, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Dutch seem to really enjoy arugula, in particular. I don’t mean a spring mix with arugula, I mean…that’s the salad—arugula. In Croatia, the salads are a mix of shredded varieties, like iceberg, romaine, and arugula. Croatians also have a fresh, light vinegar and oil dressing. However, if you want something other than salad, then you will probably have to buy it at the grocery store or market, and even then, especially in Croatia, it is hard to find other types of green veggies. 

HANGING CLOTHES ON THE LINE

I know I’ve spoken ad nauseum about this, but hear me out one more time. Hanging clothes on the line seems to be cultural. When we were in the Netherlands, everyone in the apartment hung their clothes out. They even had special contraptions that allowed the clothes to hang out further and be brought back into the house. When we toured ruins and other places, I noticed surrounding areas where residents hung their clothes on the line. And when we got to Croatia, that again, was the expectation. If any of my European friends want to enlighten me about this, then please feel free in the comments. The only place I saw a dryer was at the laundromat.

WASHING WITHOUT A WASHCLOTH

Years ago, when I visited Spain and England, I learned that washcloths weren’t a thing. But I totally forgot about this on our trip. The owner of the Holland Airbnb had hand towels, but they were really too big to use as washcloths. When we visited Belgium, it was the same; there were hand towels but no washcloths. By the time we flew to Croatia, I was prepared and had purchased some smaller towels (but they weren’t washcloths). I looked this up to find out why some people, not necessarily Europeans, don’t use washcloths, and the answer is because it’s seen as unsanitary to repeatedly use a washcloth due to bacteria buildup. Who knew?

SMOKING

The Dutch and Croatians smoke…a lot. I legit thought I was going to get an illness from second-hand smoke. Whether it was when we were at home, relaxing or out and about, eating, cigarette smoke wafted through the air and into our nostrils. Europeans smoked so much I thought maybe no one had told them that it was bad, until I saw an empty pack on a table that said, “Smoking kills.

UNITED STATES IS A MICROCOSM OF EUROPE

If you’re familiar with any United States’ history, then this should be a no-brainer, but sometimes you have to see something to fully understand. When I visited parts of London, Manhattan’s setup made sense. New Orleans reminds me of parts of Spain. On this trip, I learned more about where specific cities, ideas, and people originated. For example, do these cities sound familiar: Breuckelen, Haarlem? Yeah. They originated in the Netherlands, so did the stock exchange. Neckties came from Zagreb, Croatia (as well as Nikola Tesla), and lace was invented in Bruges. Finally the Belgian waffle, which we (or I) love so much, is not Belgian due to its shape; it is Belgian because of the ingredients, which by the way, is not pancake flour.


Overall, this trip has broadened my perspective of the world and myself. I think it’s important to see how other people live, and traveling, whether it’s for a short or extended period of time, provides that. I’m grateful we were able to take this trip, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Mental Health Matters: De-Stressed in Croatia

I want to show you how easy it was to de-stress and regulate my nervous system while I was in Zagreb, Croatia. I mean, that’s the social media way, right? But that’s not my way. I want you to understand this was a process. 

So, here we go. 

Day 1

I am angry with my husband because he doesn’t take the day off from work when we fly from Amsterdam to Zagreb. Instead of talking with him about it, I use a familiar coping mechanism: suppression. Consequently, I am overwhelmed with the thought of finding lunch for both of us and grocery shopping in a new country by myself. However, I must do these things; otherwise, I will not eat, so I use another familiar coping mechanism: hyper independence

Day 2

I am still angry from yesterday, but I say nothing. My husband found a food delivery service: it’s called Bolt, like Uber Eats or DoorDash. Due to miscommunication between us, he orders food only for himself. This causes meltdown number one. In this case, crying serves as a purifier for the stress I’ve suppressed. Our conversation yields resolutions: (1) he will grocery shop in the morning because he wakes up much earlier than I do; (2) I will take clothes to the laundromat; (3) he will wash white clothes and hang them on the line; (4) he will be more attentive; (5) I will ask for help. 

Days 3-5

It’s my birthday weekend, and stress won’t ruin it, this is my silent declaration. Dwight rents a car and drives us to Split, Croatia, where he’s planned birthday events in Hvar, an island you can only reach by ferry. We miss the ferry. But I don’t feel stressed. Maybe it’s because I declared victory over anxiety at the onset. Probably not. That’s not how anxiety works. We tour Split and arrive at Hvar late Friday night. It is too dark to see the water, but even in the dark, I hear the Adriatic crashing against the shore a few feet from our balcony. I’m able to engage in another coping mechanism: soaking up the sounds of the sea. The next day, the Adriatic helps to regulate my mood. Everything is okay. The resort allows me to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with ease. My body re-sets. 

I’m glad Dwight planned this.

Day 7

I’m overly excited about going to the laundromat. I head to the bank with a two-hundred kuna bill (the equivalent of twenty-eight dollars). I need change so I can use the machine, which only takes one hundred kuna. 

“I cannot do that,” the bank teller says when I request two one hundred kuna. 

Her reply sends me over, and I start crying—mini meltdown number two. I didn’t anticipate the bank would be a place where I couldn’t change money. Tears fall. The teller looks surprised. She tells me where to go. I can do hard things, I tell myself, while dragging a suitcase full of dirty clothes through downtown. I scan the corner store and choose a Sprite.

“Do you have anything smaller?” the cashier asks as I hand her the two hundred kuna bill, now wet and crumpled.

“No,” I lie.

I successfully wash clothes in two hours. This seemingly small feat makes me proud. 

Day 8

I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast. Its thick sliminess helps to move my bowels. I practice virtual yoga, amused that I can join the six AM class, because in Zagreb, it is noon. In a couple of hours, I Zoom into a work meeting. They’re still not taking my suggestions, but I do not feel the urge to cry. 

Week 1

I have a schedule. Three FitOn workouts one day. Virtual yoga the next day. Rely on the eighteen thousand steps we accumulate during our walking tours for added exercise. Eat thick slime for breakfast and ramen for lunch four times a week; these are easy meals that do not require thinking. Make dinner four times a week. Laundromat on Thursdays. Write everyday, even if it’s gibberish no one will read. This regimen isn’t perfect, but it is predictable, and that’s what I need…predictability. 

My bowel movements are regular, and sleep has returned—all signs that my nervous system has returned to “regular.” 

Laundry day number two, a German man put too many kuna in the machine and doesn’t need them. He gives me his tokens, enough to last two weeks. It’s the kind of event that makes you believe someone beyond the veil has your back. 

Week 2

All is well. An Uber driver tells me there’s an electronic music festival beginning on Friday. I grew up on house music, so I’m ecstatic. 

“Are you going to be able to wake up?” Dwight asks because we’re scheduled to ride the Flixbus to Venice the next day and also because he’s showing attentiveness. 

“I will,” I say. “I have a plan.” 

Drinking and dancing for three hours in a park releases toxins from my body, and I feel free.

When we return late that night, I follow my plan: shower and pack clothes and the popcorn Dwight bought me for the trip.

I don’t lose it when we almost miss the bus to Venice because neither of us knows the exact departure location. I don’t lose it when I find out there are no Ubers in Venice, only taxis that cost fifty euro. I don’t lose it when we get lost in the 150-canal maze that is Venice. I…am…calm. I almost lose it when my husband implies he could have found closer accommodations than I did—almost—but I don’t. 

Week 3

“I feel good today,” I write in my iPhone notes. I’ve been keeping track of my moods and activities, so I know what to continue and what to discard. It’s working. I’m sailing. Even though Dwight works from one to nine at night, I realize that is his schedule. I am not bound to the apartment. This is a revelation. I plan a “me” day: Zagreb Zoo and Evergreen Sushi. A conversation with my goddaughter, someone who simply listens, without offering judgement or advice, is appreciated. 

Week 4

The past few weeks have been steady, but I am ready to go home. Dwight has listened: he makes dinner that lasts two days and finds breakfast for us. This is important. The food is nourishing and so is his attention to my wellbeing. The morning we go to breakfast is perfect, except…I’ve left my phone in the Uber. I’ll spare the details of how it was recovered, but Dwight’s help was imperative. The important part is now, I am really ready to go home.

We drive to Pula, Croatia on our last Saturday. Once again, I pay my respects to the Adriatic Sea, which in my mind is a perfect ending to an imperfectly perfect extended vacation.

Now that there’s some context, I can share what I actually learned on this trip.


Monday Notes: 4 Weeks in the Netherlands

On Friday, May the 13th, Dwight and I ventured off to breakfast. I checked my workout pants pocket: phone, ID, no debit card. 

“I left my card at home,” I said.

But when I returned home, my debit card wasn’t inside the deep pocket of my travel backpack where I’ve kept it since we’d left the States. I’d lost it. 

I checked my bank account: 

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-39.60 (Spar City Witte)

Someone found my card and had repeatedly used it at a corner store (where I probably dropped it). It had only been an hour. 


This incident describes part of how I’d felt while vacationing in the Netherlands for four weeks. 

It was an explicit balance of stress and relaxation. 

The stress began week one when I found out there was no clothes dryer. I would have to hang clothes on a five-foot clothes rack. This may not sound stressful to you, but for someone like me, who successfully washes, dries, folds, and puts clothes away every Sunday, this immediately interrupted my carefully organized routine that I maintain to avoid stress. By week two, I realized it would take three days to use a small European washer and several clothes hangers to achieve what I usually did in one day. 

Stress compounded week two when we didn’t grocery shop for the week. No groceries meant no food, and no food meant buying food at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or multiple runs to the grocery store. Consequently, because Dwight worked from one to ten at night, if I wanted groceries, I’d have to do it alone. Shopping by myself wasn’t an issue; fitting this into my existing schedule was.

These new stressors occurred in between finishing Spring semester, starting Summer semester, agreeing to be on a work committee, and taking on an editing client—all manageable tasks when I’m completing household tasks under normal structured circumstances.

But these weren’t normal or structured circumstances.

I needed to rely on strategies so the stress wouldn’t build up in my body and turn into uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately scheduled a virtual yoga class with a studio in Jacksonville. Unlike being in Costa Rica, where the serenity of the mountains calmed me, in Rotterdam, I needed an organized practice once a week. 

Because I’d been working hard on balancing my microbiome in relation to my digestion system, I noticed when I was eating too much sugar or too little fiber. Unlike in Panamá, I didn’t have to wait until my belly was bloated to know when I’d gone too far. Instead, I began no-weight workouts with an exercise app; I had to meditate to stay calm; I had to journal. I had to work hard to be balanced in this new environment.

Without these practices already in place, it would have been easy to spiral when I lost my debit card, and I almost did. I was angry at myself for being careless in another country. But you know what? I first settled something in my mind, and then, out loud:

“I am not about to let this f**k up my day!” I said to Dwight but more so to myself. “I’m going to get my nails done.” 

Did I choke back tears when the bank representative asked me where I was located and then the country and then my zip code—twice? Yep. Did I wallow? Nope. 

Instead of spiraling into an abyss of anger after playing twenty-one questions with customer service, I thought rationally. I am not without. I have another bank account to transfer and use money. I am not lacking because of a mistake, and I’m not some sort of dolt because I made an error. 


The reality is in between dealing with the stress of unexpected events, I’ve done the following:

  • eaten authentic Belgian waffles in Brussels, the way Belgians intended, 
  • tried premier chocolate from a chocolatier in Brussels,
  • visited Gieethorn, a wealthy town built around a canal, 
  • watched sex workers solicit clients in Amsterdam, 
  • drank shots at the nine degree below Ice Bar
  • viewed Jesus’s (alleged) blood captured in a capsule, 
  • toured the city where In Bruges was filmed, 
  • eaten at a myriad of outdoor cafes, 
  • photographed tulips on the last day of tulip season, and
  • walked an average of six miles per day. 

It’s super easy to get caught up in one or two bad events, right? But we can’t let a few negative encounters dictate our entire experience. Overall, I’ve enjoyed living in the Netherlands. Sure, there were unexpected cultural shifts for living our lives; however, there were more “good” days than “bad” days. Was washing clothes half the week a pain? YEP! Was eating an authentic Belgian waffle worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

I’ll check back in once we leave our next destination: Croatia. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos.



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: “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: 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.