Waiting for gray (bochorno)

IMG_7086.JPGDear E.,

The longer I live in places where you can wear flip-flops 12 months a year, the more obsessed I become with seasons.

It’s not as simple as missing them. If I could choose right now, I’m not sure I’d wish the seasons of my childhood back into my current life. But I’m fascinated by the way those memories find us at odd moments, and how we reconfigure them among the smells, sounds and sensations of entirely different climes.

Last week I was telling you your favorite bedtime story, the same one you ask for every night. In it, you discover a set of keys that unlocks little doors hidden in the nooks and crannies of our house, doors that go unnoticed until you discover them one rainy day. There is one key and one door for every color of the rainbow, and each door reveals a different landscape: an orange grove, a blue Maine lake, green hills that we run across and roll down.

Continue reading Waiting for gray (bochorno)

Apapáchame – a little universe

02-16aI woke up early this morning on your birthday. I’m not sure why, but it was a gift: your birthdays make me wistful, and it was nice to start it face-to-face with you as you snoozed, looking just the way you did at one month old, or even in that ultrasound photo.

Sometime last year you started slipping into our bed in the wee hours of the morning so that we awake to find you nestled between us. Occasionally one of us gets a foot in the face, since you have always been such a contortive sleeper – your dad in particular seems to be a magnet for your toes – but we wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even bruiselessness.

In just a couple of hours you would start your new preschool, a big girl in a brand-new uniform of foolhardy crispness, not yet indelibly stained by finger paints or pudding. A big girl in brand-new shoes, not yet scuffed and intentionally dipped into as much mud as possible. I couldn’t believe the size of them when the saleswoman brought them out after measuring your feet: they looked massive, as do you sometimes when I come home from work, or whenever you wear jeans.

Continue reading Apapáchame – a little universe

‘Love in Translation’ joins Facebook – come meet me there!

Dear Readers,

Now that my second child, the book that finally emerged in December, is out in the world, I’m gearing up for more musings on life abroad, motherhood and of course, my ongoing obsession with Costa Rican language and culture. All of these look a little different now than they did when I started the project with a newborn baby, so there’s a lot to explore.

Stay tuned here for new essays, but also please check out the new Love in Translation Facebook page, where I’ll be sharing all posts from the blog (with a new name to match the book), plus other cool stuff including a #DailyDicho for those seeking an everyday dose of costarriqueñismos. I’d love to connect with you there.

And a quick, unrelated update: Shadow Cabinet, a new and separate project I mentioned in my last post, has been filling me with energy and excitement over the past several weeks, and I’d love to share that with you, too. There, you’ll find weekly interviews with women on the front lines of the work to protect human rights in today’s United States.

Wishing you a great week and a Happy Valentine’s Day,



(And now for a political interlude)

Dear Dictionary of You Readers,

I’ve been AWOL from this site, which means so much to me, for two reasons: first, I was putting out “Love in Translation,” a book of essays compiled from this blog. Second, in 2016 and certainly now in 2017, pretty much all I can think, read or write about is U.S. politics.

If you’re in a similar bind – and especially if you, like me, are craving real conversation about the problems we’re facing – I hope you’ll follow me over to Shadow Cabinet, my new series of interviews with women leading the struggle for human rights in the United States.

I’ll be publishing weekly interviews (weekly-ish – some weeks my daughter may have other ideas for me), short and sweet, on Tuesdays. They’ll be focused on what each woman is doing to make a difference in our country, how we can support her directly, and what lessons we can take from her experiences to emulate in our own communities. The first interview, coming this Tuesday, will feature Allegra Love, founder of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. This immigration lawyer is inspiring and tough, but also offers supremely useful tips for helping our local nonprofits without overwhelming them.

Read more about the effort here. I hope some of you will follow Shadow Cabinet (you can sign up via email on that site, right-hand column, or follow along on Twitter @shadowcabinet45) and contact me if you have any suggestions.

I hope to get back to blogging about Costa Rican language and culture soon, but in the meantime, you might enjoy a new series I began over at The Tico Times entitled “The World in Costa Rica” – stories of immigration to Costa Rica in all its rich and diverse forms.

Thanks again for all your support!

An interview about ‘Love’

This was an amazing week and I’m so grateful to you for your comments and shares! Earlier this year, Tico Times Managing Editor (and fellow writer-mom) Jill Replogle asked me some great questions about Costa Rica, writing, juggling family and the immigrant vs. expat debate. The TT published the interview on Monday and I’m proud to share it here as well. 

…Stanley, 37, arrived in Costa Rica in 2004 and has worked as a reporter, editor, speechwriter and freelance writer, as well as in a variety of roles in the nonprofit sector. After the birth of her daughter in San José in 2013, she began writing about Costa Rican language and culture, both on her personal blog, The Dictionary of You, and in a popular Tico Times column called Maeology. Many of these writings are included in the new book, which follows our Publications Group’s first title, “The Green Season,” by Robert Isenberg (2015).

“Love in Translation” has garnered praise for former President Oscar Arias, former First Lady Henrietta Boggs, author Carlos Arauz and National Culture Award-Winner María Mayela Padilla, who says it offers “a valuable lesson: that our language and culture are rich and worthy of preservation. We must carry in our souls the pride of being Costa Rican, just the way we are.”

We asked Stanley a few questions about the book, now available for delivery within Costa Rica from The Tico Times Store, and around the world on Amazon.

In your words, what is this book about?

I’m a New Englander, and we don’t throw the word “love” around a whole lot, but that’s really what it’s about and why it ended up in the title: love of the way Costa Rica talks and thinks, love of the country in general, and how that eventually grew into my family…  My view of the book has changed a little bit throughout 2016, which has been a hard year for lots of people in different ways. I hope it provides a little escape for readers but also a testament to the beauty that is created when different cultures meet and when people move beyond their own borders, literally and emotionally.

Tells us a little about the format of the book and the material that makes it up.

The blog it grew from, which I started as an outlet for all the thoughts whizzing around my brain when I was home with my baby daughter, was called “The Dictionary of You,” because my original idea was to write one letter to my daughter for every letter of the alphabet, looking at a Costa Rican phrase or expression that started with that letter.

That’s basically how it is set up: “a” is for “antiguo higuerón,” the once-and-future fig tree that looms so large in Costa Rican direction-giving, and the essay explores getting lost as a new arrival. “B” is for “breteanding,” a Spanglish spin you sometimes hear on “brete,” or work. And so on. These alternate with brief journal entries that trace my 12 years in Costa Rica and how my life changed along the way.

A lot of your writing, especially your Maeology column for The Tico Times, is centered on language and Costa Rican slang. How has understanding Costa Rican Spanish helped you understand Costa Rica?

The two have gone hand in hand the whole way. For one thing, my husband, Adrián, uses slang constantly, so starting to understand it was a key part of dating him and falling in love with him and his country. And to me, the process of understanding a language runs parallel to the process of understanding a country. You hear a phrase you don’t understand and someone explains it – fine – but it might be years later that the real meaning sinks into your bones, the philosophy behind it, what it represents. I expect that process to continue forever, just about.

When you were putting together this book and looked back at journal entries from your first years in Costa Rica, what struck you about the way you perceived the country and your place in it compared to now?

I think back to those early days in the country so often – they were so formative for me, so indedibly inked on my brain – that there weren’t really any big surprises, to be honest.

What’s your favorite Costa Rican dicho or slang term?

Manda huevo. Untranslatable, essential, so expressive. I am often very critical when native speakers of English, including me, sprinkle Spanish into their conversation with other English speakers – sometimes it’s done in a “oh, my Spanish is just so good that I can’t remember the English words anymore” kind of way – but manda huevo is one phrase I do sometimes use when I’m speaking English because there’s just no equivalent.

The letters to your daughter included in the book started as a blog that you began writing at a time when most people stop doing anything other than surviving: you had a new baby and multiple demanding jobs, and you were living in a city notorious for long commute times and frequent traffic jams. How and why did you decide to take up this project and continue to make the time to keep up with it?

It was actually an unusually quiet time in my life. I did juggle a lot of work from home, but I was still going very long stretches without exchanging a single word out loud with another adult. As any new parent can attest, when I did speak, it was usually to my husband, and those weren’t exactly quality conversations. My husband worked nights. I would put our daughter to bed and the house would be so exquisitely quiet; my brain would be so full of things I wanted to tell her. The blog just sort of spilled out of that. I see so many new moms start blogs, and I think it comes from that same kind of feeling: you have this new urgency to all the things you want to say, but the person you most want to hear them is not capable of listening yet. And you write.

You’ve raised your child almost entirely in Costa Rica thus far, but what have you found surprising about raising a child here that seems different in the United States?

That’s a big part of the book, too, and hard to sum up. I’ve been surprised by how kind and accommodating people are here, including in professional situations – I can’t really compare it to the States, since I’ve never had a kid there, but from what I gather from friends, I am fortunate in that sense. And on the sillier side, I was surprised to find that no matter what your baby is wearing, you will always be told to put more clothing on her. Always.

What do you hope your daughter learns from her bicultural upbringing?

That’s a great question. I’ve never really thought of it quite that way – I tend to think of all the benefits of a bicultural upbringing as a huge bonus, like that’s a given, and then worry about what I hope she doesn’t get from it. Like, I hope it doesn’t make her feel rootless or lonely. But what I hope she does get from it: sensitivity, I guess, and an appreciation for other people’s complexities. I hope, for example, that she will be slower to judge an immigrant, or a person learning a new language, or a person trying to fit in, because she will have been exposed to a lot of people in that category. Of course, it could go the other way and she could move in between cultures so easily that she is arrogant about that ability.

Do you consider yourself an expat? And have your thoughts about that word and concept changed over time? 

I consider myself an immigrant, although that’s a whole topic all its own and a column I’ve been meaning to write. When you look up a definition of either term, they both apply to me and in fact are pretty much interchangeable on the page, but in real life they have so much baggage and so many connotations.

The fact that I came here more or less on a lark, with a lot of educational and economic privilege that allowed me to hit the ground running as a teacher and then a reporter, would suggest that maybe I should be called an expat, and I haven’t had to face all the challenges that many immigrants face and for which they deserve so much respect. However, I have also made a life here and integrated, or sometimes failed to integrate, often in entertaining ways. Now I’ve put down some pretty serious roots here, and feel that I am an immigrant.

Of course, just the fact that I get to choose how to define myself represents a huge level of privilege. I guess I also use the term because I am so angry about the negative way it is being used in the United States, and am conscious that we apply it to most any foreigner with no regard for that person’s story. Basically I just wish we, especially in the United States, could free “immigrant” from some of its baggage and celebrate the incredible diversity that the word carries with it.


An interview about ‘Love’

kso-pic-smallThis was an amazing week and I’m so grateful to you for your comments and shares! Earlier this year, Tico Times Managing Editor (and fellow writer-mom) Jill Replogle asked me some great questions about Costa Rica, writing, juggling family and the immigrant vs. expat debate. The TT published the interview on Monday and I’m proud to share it here as well. 

…Stanley, 37, arrived in Costa Rica in 2004 and has worked as a reporter, editor, speechwriter and freelance writer, as well as in a variety of roles in the nonprofit sector. After the birth of her daughter in San José in 2013, she began writing about Costa Rican language and culture, both on her personal blog, The Dictionary of You, and in a popular Tico Times column called Maeology. Many of these writings are included in the new book, which follows our Publications Group’s first title, “The Green Season,” by Robert Isenberg (2015).

Continue reading An interview about ‘Love’

The book is here – thank you!

The book based on my writings here on “The Dictionary of You” is finally in print, and I am so thankful to each and every one of you for joining me along the way. All those of you who have been clueless brand-new parents, or lived far from home, or experienced loneliness – ok, pretty much everyone – will understand what it meant to me to get kind and insightful comments on my musings from everyone from my mom, to old friends, to total and totally wonderful strangers. I would never have dreamed of a book without that feedback. Some nights, it was a real lifeline.

I’ll be honest: it has felt downright frivolous to continue pouring myself into a project so sunny, small and hopeful during the past several weeks, tough ones for both the United States and Costa Rica for very different reasons. But to paraphrase an artist I love, sometimes you have to focus on whether what you’re putting out into the world is positive or negative. I’ve tried to do that, and I hope that a small story about love and language across borders provides a little blast of positivity for readers this holiday season.

Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart! And please head on over to my new (and very much in its own infancy) author website, katherinestanley.com, for all the details on “Love in Translation: Letters to My Costa Rican Daughter,” hot off the presses at The Tico Times Publishing Group and available worldwide on Amazon, or for delivery in Costa Rica from The Tico Times Store.



The problem with valleys

What do people buy before a storm? Water. Batteries. A box of wine – fine, two, and I’m not sorry. We fill our carts with comfort, collect retail horcruxes, seek the magic combination that will hold back the flood.

In San José, Costa Rica, on November 23rd, 2016, I buy a rechargeable lantern just in case.

I’m watching two storms. One’s a bright puff whirling toward our coast on the weather map. The other is a man who wears that same shape on his head, disturbing, blond. A man whose ringtone by now, I assume, is “Hail to the Chief.” The hurricane is named Otto, just like the Costa Rican congressman who said this week that the blond-haired man is an inspiration. A cold wind blew through my heart when I read it: no place is immune.

Continue reading The problem with valleys

Toddlerhood (mocosa)

Dear E.,

I am trying to return to my habit of writing to you here, interrupted for the better part of a year by the effort of producing a book (coming out soon, I swear). But that’s just one reason. The other is that I ran out of momentum, out of fodder for my love letters to Costa Rica. Looking back, I realize that my ever-fluctuating feelings for my adopted country were modulating into yet another key – as did, for different reasons, the tenor of motherhood.

I’ll explain later.

New motherhood can be tender, thoughtful even romantic. Romantic in an “I’m covered in puke and I think one of my nipples just fell off” kind of way, of course, but romantic all the same. If you’re lucky, there’s lots of gazing, silence, contemplation and gratitude. Life slows and sweetens. Everything seems precious, including the country outside your window.

Then things change. People can, and often do, have both a newborn baby and no sense of humor; believe me, I’ve met quite a few. But people who are the parents of toddlers without honing their darkest wit; who haven’t given up, at least for now, on 95% of the parenting goals they had before giving birth; who don’t question their own sanity on a daily basis (not their kid’s, because the kid is clearly insane); and who haven’t laughed until they cried while surrounded by a growing pool of toddler urine in the aisle of a store… well, such a parent is not a person I want to have a beer with.

Continue reading Toddlerhood (mocosa)

We’re having a… book!

A taste of Priscilla Aguirre’s delightful work.

Dear Friends:

I am happy to share the news that The Dictionary of You is becoming, well, an actual dictionary, on actual paper – a collection of my essays will be published as a book in a matter of weeks by The Tico Times Publications Group here in Costa Rica. It is being illustrated by the wondrous Priscilla Aguirre, an artist whose work I dearly love and is displayed on my walls at home. She is the creator of the popular Holalola line and captures the beauty and whimsy of San José like no one else, as you can see in the image at right (unrelated to this project, via the Holalola Facebook page). It is a dream come true to be working with her.

The book, which compiles musings published here and in my Tico Times column, “Maeology,” would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of all of you, and I am so grateful. I will be sharing more information in the weeks ahead, including the cover image, title and, eventually, Amazon link.

If you have any suggestions as to authors or other folks who might be interested in this book and willing to provide a blurb or review; media contacts who might be interested in covering it; potential points of sale, or locations for readings; or any other suggestions for me, I would be love to hear them. The Tico Times Publications Group is not even a year old, so we need lots of support in getting the word out!

Thanks again, and have a wonderful weekend.

Love, Katherine, Adrián and the indomitable Miss E.