Summertime = Time for Creativity!

I grew to love painting “for fun” instead of “for homework” during my time in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, all my paintings were too large to bring back on the plane — although I seriously considered the idea (Imagine an already overloaded traveller begging the flight attendant to please let this ginormous framed canvas to be her “carry-on”… yeah, I didn’t think that would go over so well either!). I ended up selling about 8 pieces before moving back.

That was a year ago.

Let’s be honest: The whole process of reverse culture shock (becoming acclimated to one’s native country again) takes a lot longer than anyone wants to admit. I think my process took about 8 months, and in some ways, is still happening even today.

That said, I’m finally beginning to feel like my artistic self again. Here’s several pieces of creative evidence:

I saw this idea online somewhere and knew I had to try it. I bought an already-painted-on canvas at a thrift store and used masking tape to craft letters on top of the painting. I chose my favorite quote from La casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (an amazing Cuban-American author), and fit the whole quote on the canvas. Then I painted over the tape, let it dry, and peeled all the tape off. Wa-laah! I might go back and add more to it, but this is what it looks like for now.

I also saw this idea online somewhere… probably or something. While I’m not Martha Stewart, I was able to figure out this recipe. All I did was mix up a white cake mix, separate it into three mixing bowls, add different color to each bowl, and bake each layer separately. I didn’t have enough circle cake pans, so I turned to pie tins as well. Each layer cooled for about 15 minutes before I iced them all into one cake. Easy peasy.

This is my current work-in-progress. It is acrylic paints and a collage of paper, leaves, bark, film negatives, and beads. It’s not quite finished yet, so stay tuned for a finished version.

 I continued the collage up the side of the canvas. All about the little details.

Here’s a close up of the lower collage:

This tree collage took a lot longer than I thought it would, but little by little, it made its way toward completion. My favorite is the gold paper running through the whole tree — both branches and roots. I was reflecting on a particular verse in Romans that reminds us that we (the tree) are not all that there is to us — that the roots (Jesus) are what really anchor us throughout life. To me, Jesus is the gold that shines throughout the entire tree, causing the leaves to grow.

I’m definitely enjoying my creative summer… can you tell? : )


Trish’s Wedding

For those of you who followed my Costa Rica blog, you will remember my best friend Trish just married our Costa Rican friend Albin Contreras Mata in December. Here’s a photo of Trish and all the ladies (L to R: Kate, Sarah, Amy, Melissa, Trish, Hannah, Brittany, Rachel) in Cincinnati on a freezing cold, windy day… We’re a lot colder than we look : ). The only unfortunate thing about the photo is that you can’t see our sparkly gold platform heels… not kidding, we really wore them. Trish, do you have any group photos with our shoes showing?

And for anyone interested in reading more about Costa Rica, Trish started a new blog that you can read here. Sarah (pictured above, second from the left) also just moved to Costa Rica and you can read her blog here.

Back to Being Gringa

Alright, alright, I have to admit it. Even though I have always been a gringa (a white girl), I have had my moments of trying to be not-so-gringa…

Like the long process of perfecting (almost : )) that tico (Costa Rican) accent of saying “y” and “ll” like a “j” (example: tortilla = tortiJa) and making more of a “sh” sound for the “rr” (example: correr = cossshhhher). Now I am caught between whether to continue in my tico accent ways or if I should adapt more of the mexicano accent that is prevalent here in Elgin. (By the way, gringa is Costa Rican and guerra is Mexican Spanish… It’s not just different accents — it’s also different vocabularies!)

Or like the time I dyed my hair dark brown in an attempt to blend in better as I walked the San José city streets between bus stops. Unfortunately, the reflection-white skin and the blue eyes still gave me away and I was still called machita (blondie) by the masses.

Or how every time I would go to the beach, I would try and try and try to get that perfect golden tan, hoping that would be the key to becoming a latina look-alike. I think I achieved the perfect tan a grand total of twice in my three years in CR… I overdid the sun intake and just got burnt crimson red instead of browned.

So now I’m back living in gringolandia, as any white community of people is jokingly called by Costa Ricans. I have come to terms again with admitting, “Yes, I am one of the gringos”… It took a while as I had to pass through the normal stages of criticizing the degree of international ignorance and being overwhelmed by the materialism and convenience. These arguments still echo in my mind as I go about my daily life, but thankfully, they seem to be at a much quieter volume than they were when I first came back stateside.

Alright, so to solidify this announcement that I am officially a gringa again (haha, as if any of you are surprised), here’s a recent realization that brought on this post:

I need to explain that in Costa Rica, the usual temperature was in the 70s. When the “Christmas winds” would blow from the north in December, the ticos would all get out their parkas, scarves, gloves, hats, and boots. Because the temperature was a mere 50ºF, we gringos would laugh, wear flip flops, and say, “You think this is cold??!” as the ticos wrapped their babies in seven blankets to walk next door. By the third year of being in CR, I too agreed that the Christmas winds were cold… so there I was, wrapping myself up for the “cold” with multiple layers of socks and scarves, although I never was desperate enough to get a parka, lol. 

Okay, so here’s my I-am-a-gringa moment. The winter has been fairly mild here, according to many co-workers and friends. While it may be mild for them, this has been the longest period of time I have interacted with below-freezing temperatures since 2008. Needless to say, I have been very cold. Today hit a high of 47ºF, and I was driving my car with the windows open and I shed my winter coat as the afternoon warmed up. As I was walking from the grocery store back out to my car, I looked down at my outfit: flats, socks, jeans, t-shirt, cardigan. It hit me all of a sudden: I used to think 47ºF was cold when those Christmas winds would blow through… and now I think 47ºF is warm. I think my Costa Rican friend Judit (who is now rocking life in Shanghai working for an Italian architecture firm) would shake her head, pat my shoulder, and say, “Es cierto. Eres una gringa de corazón.”

Welcome back to a temperate climate, Kate. Glad you finally realized you are a machita and yes, a gringa.


An interesting aspect of ”reverse culture shock” that I didn’t expect were all the flashbacks. It’s almost as if I have this three year gap of normal life experiences that gives me a bit of time warp… but somehow in that three-year-gap-time-warp are embedded a plethora of random experiences and stories that are now merely flashbacks. A struggle within reverse culture shock has been to know when I can share my flashbacks and when I should just keep my mouth shut.

For example…

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday with a new doctor’s office that a co-worker had recommended to me. I entered suite #3000 and was greeted by a waiting room full of Spanish language and brown eyes staring back at me. I time warped into my Costa Rica experiences and approached the secretary’s window to check in. The secretary was on the phone speaking good ol’ fast Spanish and I was fully prepared to begin the conversation in my second language when she opened the window and said in perfect English, “May I help you?” This did not fit into my time warp, so I stumbled through my English (lol) of explaining that I had a doctor’s appointment.

After briefly waiting, my name was called. I headed back into the nurse’s station where the two Latina nurses took my blood pressure, asked about family health history, etc., again all in perfect English with impeccable American accents. Then this question:

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

This was the funniest flashback that I never EVER thought I would EVER encounter again. For those of you that followed my CR blog, you will remember Trish’s and my experiences at the Seguro Social clinic because those were our best blog’s ever. (Find Trish’s experience here and mine here.)

“Excuse me?”

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

“Umm…” (I’m trying to think if I should explain my flashback… but I decide to keep those details to myself for now…) “…Yes, I had one about two years ago.”

“Were the results normal?”

“Umm… I’m not sure… I mean, they never called me… so I assume results were normal.”

(The nurse is looking at me with a look of uncertainty.) “Where did you have it done?”

“Um… the Seguro Social in Costa Rica.”

(Then the conversation changed to rapid Spanish.)

“Do you speak Spanish?”

”Yes, of course.”

Now there I was, once again talking about pap smears (papanicolao) in Spanish, having this ridiculous flashback to having a very similar conversation in Costa Rica. The nurse continued the conversation in Spanish, and I was having one flashback after another. Like the time I was in the emergency room and the lady was like ”PAIN” really loud as if it would help me understand her question better. Or the time I was trying to explain that my eye was swollen because of a mosquito bite… LOL

So as I followed the nurse down the hallway to the patient rooms, I was cracking up to myself, wondering how on earth I would ever explain to anyone what it’s like to have flashbacks from that three year gap of ”normal life”…

That’s what makes life so interesting. : )