Why a Costa Rican Holy Week is a treasure to be savored

Nature Landings Cover Screenshot 2017-03I’m pleased to be writing a new column for Nature Air’s magazine, Nature Landings: “Word on the Street.” The magazine is full of fascinating travel stories, cultural information and more, and I’m proud to be a contributor. With permission from Nature Landings, here is a look at this month’s musings as published in the April-May edition. Look for the column the next time you’re in the skies enjoying what truly is the most spectacular way to see Costa Rica.

Oftentimes in Costa Rica – a country that lacks the spectacular Holy Week celebrations of, say, Antigua, Guatemala – Holy Week seems best characterized by a long list of things you can’t do. Drinking is one of them, since dry laws prohibit the sale of alcohol on key religious dates (ineffectively, as demonstrated by a popular nickname for Semana Santa: Semana Tanda, or Drunken Week).

Shopping is another, although much has changed since the days when you could barely find a place to buy bread on high holy days. Each year, more and more shops keep their doors open, increasing convenience but eroding tradition – all the more reason to embrace Holy Week while we can.

There is a whole host of activities that are forbidden on Good Friday, for religious reasons or by long-standing superstitions. Don’t eat meat. Don’t go swimming in a river or ocean, or you will turn into a fish. Don’t hit your children, or your hand will fall off; there’s one superstition we can all wish were fact. Don’t wear red, since it implies support for the devil. And since it’s a day of mourning, don’t run, play or work.

But alongside all the can’ts, what you can do during Holy Week in Costa Rica, especially in its town and city centers, is slow down, reflect and relax as at no other time of year.

Nature Landings Photo 2017-03 MQC

Courtesy of Nature Landings. Photo by Mónica Quesada.


It is a hot season, and very still. Streets empty; miel de chiverre, or squash jam, is lovingly prepared over stovetops nationwide; painstaking preparations are made for local processions. Regardless of your religious affiliation, something about Semana Santa invites reflection – or, at the very least, peace and quiet.

It’s worth seeking out this national pause. It’s worth leaving behind the rush of everyday life, or even, for the tourist, taking a detour from the beach to experience Costa Rican town life at its finest: with stores shuttered and schools locked, people of all ages can come together in the street behind the solemn beat of the Romans’ drums.

Walk with them, and you’ll be reminded why we want traditions to survive in the first place: because they connect us to history, even when that history isn’t ours.



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.

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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.

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‘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’

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).

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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.