On home, hometowns and place

Can a person claim a place, or does place always trump the person?

When one lives in the middle a very large country, in a fairly large city, it’s easy to exist in a relatively passive and insulated sort of way. Privacy is pretty much guaranteed; people don’t just drop by unannounced. Running errands is not likely to put one in contact with anyone one knows. Co-workers may become friends, but they just as easily may not.

This kind of existence means you can opt into community life or not. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found this less appealing than I once did. The effort required for a single professional woman with no local ties to make friends is daunting. Endeavors–at least for me–often ended in a sort of disappointing neutrality. The outing or activity was fine, the people were perfectly fine, but no real connection was made.

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

I have no idea how this will turn out, but I recently made the decision to move back to Belize, finding the pull of my native land suddenly extremely strong.Over the years, I have made a point to visit at least once a year–sometimes I’ve managed more than once a year. Although I didn’t grow up in Belize in terms of actual years, Belize is the place where many of my formative experiences took place. It’s where I have a large circle of extended family, friends and acquaintances. For better or worse, people know a great deal about me–warts and all. There is both comfort and trepidation in this!

Having moved around my entire life, Belize City is the closest thing I have to a hometown. So here I am: Day Four. Here we go….

Did I choose Belize or did Belize choose me?

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Sunday: Chickens and beads in Ybor City, Tampa

Impressions: Ybor City coming slowly to life on a Sunday afternoon. There are shiny beads all over the place, which –along with the tattoo parlors, bars and tourists mingling with locals– give the area a pleasantly seedy Bourbon Street vibe.

Live music in the bar & grill where I’m eating: Not a bad rendition of “Hotel California.” There is, as Belizeans might say, a rain breeze. Like it might pour or might not.

Low humidity and anything can happen. There is no comparable sensation in the Midwest.

Amtrak train cruises by a street away, startling a clan of chickens–yes, chickens.  

    
    
    
    
 

Stay-cation or vacation? 3 things to consider before making your decision

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Say you take a few days off: Just enough to take a trip somewhere nearby and affordable. OR, you could use that travel time to take naps, putter around your garden and explore the place where you live.

3 tips to making the decision

1 – Exhaustion factor. If you are really beat, the stay-cation may be the best way to recuperate. If you have kids or pets, however, staying home could add to your exhaustion factor.
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2 – If you did not already live where you do, is it a place you’d want to visit? For mid-size to large cities, the answer could well be “Yes.” However, if you’ve lived there most of your life, getting away is probably the more refreshing option.

NOTE: If you are new to town (like yours truly in Kansas City), the stay-cation can be great. Perfect for hitting up markets, museums, or just taking a walk around your new community. Plus, you’ve already got a place to stay.

3 – Weather. If it’s more to your liking where you are than anywhere else you can get to and/or afford, staying put is going to make you happier.
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Places in my heart: Central America & the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (da U.P.)

Growing up in a family that moved every two or three years, I could count on two places that changed very little and offered warm welcomes. These two places are on their own both “off the beaten path” and taken together present a rather unlikely pairing:

Menominee, Michigan (USA)–where my father grew up on the corner of 13th Avenue & 21st Street. On vacation trips and for longer periods in between my father’s overseas assignments, we lived here. I briefly attended elementary school and later high school in Menominee and made friends. (Shoutout! My dear high school BFFs: Kelly W., Kelley M., and Debbie S.)

Belize City, Belize–where my mother grew up on New Road. Similar to Menominee, I attended bits and pieces of school in Belize and spent vacations there. Later, I began my journalism career there. Along the way, I made friends.

Because my mother’s family is large and close-knit, the Belize connection emerged over the years as the stronger of the two. My American grandmother died in the late 1980s (my grandfather died shortly after I was born) and my father has no siblings. So, after we cleared out and sold the Menominee house, there was little reason to return. Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the town is not exactly on the way to or from many places.

Enter Facebook! A yearbook photo posted on Friday by former classmate John Militello (who, like many Menominee folks, no longer lives there) was a fond reminder: It feels good to know that Menominee people, like Belize people, remember me. For all my traveling and career-ing, I am moved and comforted to know that there are memories that connect me to places in the heart.

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5 things I ate in Cuba

This post was inspired by an NPR story titled, Mojito diplomacy: Chefs plan culinary tours to Cuba.

Despite rationing–or because of?–the friends I spent time with found ways to get their hands on a variety of foods. Bottomline: if one had money, one could buy just about anything. Los clandestinos thrived when I was traveling to Cuba in 2002-04, and I imagine the black market economy is still more relevant to daily life than the state. Many families receive foreign remittances, so not everyone must rely on their ration books.

1. The first thing I ate in Cuba was lobster. Arriving in Havana late at night, we found our hotel restaurant was closed, so my mother and I followed a man from the neighborhood to a Centro Habana paladar, a private home licensed by the government to cook and serve meals. We sat at the family’s dining table as love songs played on a boom box.

2. For breakfast, I often ate tortillas. The Cuban version is actually a frittata, in all it’s delicious glory. Served with bread and Cuban coffee at the casa particular (private home licensed to host tourists) where I stayed on subsequent trips.

3. Paella. Cooked in a tiny kitchen on the roof of the home of friends in the beach town of Varadero. Exquisite, especially because we ate at a table on the roof, under the sky, shaded by a tree.

4. Garbanzo soup with white rice. Rich and filling. Cooked with pride by the man of the house at my casa particular .

5. A giant sheet cake ordered by the casa particular chatelaine for a party on Dec. 17, dedicated to St. Lazarus. San Lazaro is a big deal for Cubans, who pray to him for health.

I went with my friends to pick up the cake, which was created behind nondescript doors at a clandestine bakery, where employees were busy mixing, baking and decorating a variety of treats in a series of rooms that opened onto a courtyard.

A lookout gave the all-clear when we were ready to leave with the cake. No police or snoops in sight, we carefully placed the cake into the trunk of the ancient Lada.

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