From -28 C to +28C

Posted on March 18 2019

It's March and it looks like we're in the depths of winter still, but the sun is warmer, the days a little longer and the snow is starting to melt, finally! January and February were super cold so getting out and going away were definitely the highlights from the last couple months.  

On the first day of January, I went into the woods in search of my "spirit animal", looking for some guidance for the year ahead... 

It was a beautiful walk, but alas, I didn't spot any creatures. However on my way home as I was pulling into my alley, low and behold, fixed with perked ears, a white Jack Rabbit sat on the road staring at me. Look at that cute, grey sniffer!

Inside, I looked up the meaning of a hare as a spirt animal and read that prosperity and abundance are in my future. A white rabbit symbolizes magic and manifestation so bring it on 2019! 

Back in December, I heard the news that Phil Neery, the man who introduced me to glass bead making in 2002 had passed on. Phil was an incredible human who had the most curious and inquisitive mind. He never stopped learning and every thing he did learn, he was more than happy to share with others.  He was into his 80's and still creating beautiful jewelry pieces with silver, copper and glass.

He played a huge roll in starting the glass beading industry in Edmonton, sharing his passion for the medium and converting many of us into glass bead junkies. In fact, he was the one that donated some of his glass beads to the art therapy program my Mom and I were in at the Cross Cancer Institute. We were taking a beading class shortly after my Dad died. On the last day of class, Phil dropped off some of his glass beads and we each got to choose one for our project. I fell in love with those beads and my life was changed forever. From there, we took a class with Phil and decided to go into business, me making the beads and Mom making the jewelry. I have such gratitude for that fateful day, for meeting Phil, for his kindness, patience and delightful enthusiasm for the beauty of glass. Come to think of it, he was like a magical white hare bringing prosperity and abundance into my world. :)

This January, the Edmonton bead group got together to share stories of Phil and to honour his legacy. It was a wonderful night, reflecting on how we met Phil and how he changed all our lives. He will be lovingly remembered forever. Cheers to you Phil! 

Later in January, Chris and I went to Phoenix to visit my Mom (she has a place there) and family.  It was so nice to get away from the snow and frigid temps. We went for walks and enjoyed sitting in the backyard with hummingbirds and flowers all around us. Mom and I went to greenhouses, funky shops and had lunch at one of the trendy True Foods Restaurants, a chain of restaurants offering super healthy but delicious meals (we need one of these in Edmonton).

On my birthday (January 24th), we had all the Phoenician family over and while eating dinner, Chris had arranged a surprise for me. The doorbell rang and Elvis entered to give us a fantastic show - sunglasses, sequins, a swinging pelvis and all!

The ladies were swooning. 😜  Freddy G. Elvis, as he's known, also has an awesome car that he airbrushed himself so we went outside to check it out - 

If you're ever in Phoenix for a celebration and want to spice up the party, you can book Freddy through Gig Salad

The following night, we went to a relatively new restaurant, Ladera for authentic Mexican food and yummy margaritas.

We sat outside in their beautiful back patio under twinkly lights. 

They put a long table here at the fireplace for us. It was so cozy!

The next day, Mom, Chris and I went on a little road trip to Jerome, an old mining town a couple hours north of Phoenix. It was a beautiful drive with lots of winding roads going up and around a mountain. 

Jerome is America's most vertical town with all the buildings and houses clinging to the slope of the Cleopatra Hill.

In town, the switchback streets are steep and narrow. There's very little room for two way traffic so often you have to stop to the side to let traffic coming the other way pass. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's a lot of fun! There are tons of little souvenir shops, "haunted" restaurants and artists' studios. We went to the Historical Park Museum and Douglas Mansion to watch a film on the history of the town and see examples of all the minerals they pulled out of the hills (a billion dollars in copper alone!).  From there, we drove to the old, historic town of Cottonwood, not far away and stayed over night at the delightful Iron Horse Inn.

On our last day, we went to my cousin Shilo and her husband, Steve's house for lunch and to visit the newest Hamilton Clan member, their sweet baby, Skye -  

Back home in February, we were planning our vacation to Cuba on the 14th and I was working on my annual year in review book. I had it all complete but for proof reading when, while out shopping, Mickey knocked a planter over that I had recently watered and the water seeped into my computer. 😳

This was the day before we were leaving for Cuba so I put the computer in a tray of rice while we were away, but unfortunately, when we got back I turned it on and it was dead. I took it in to retrieve the hard drive and I got a new computer, however, I'm still unable to access the book so I might have to start from scratch again. I have to take it to an expert and pray that he/she can figure it out. Fingers crossed.  

As for Cuba, we had an amazing time. We were lucky enough to fly business class on our points for the same price as economy!  That was half the fun, we've never experienced that before and now, I wonder how we'll ever go back to the old way of flying... you know, standing in lines, uncomfortable seats, paying for drinks and food - it's going to be tough.  

* Note the leg room, our complementary slippers and "don't mind if I do" champagne offering.

We flew into Varadero and out of Havana, so for the first few days, we stayed at a resort on the Varadero strip. We had a great time, Chris relaxed on the beach and I swam and played in the ocean until I was burnt to a crisp (even with sunscreen) and needed to cover up.  We also went on a snorkelling excursion to Playa Coral and encountered a Portuguese Man o' war, which was quickly removed from the area for our safety. Fun fact: The Blanket Octopus is immune to the venom of the Portuguese man o' war; young individuals carry broken man o' war tentacles (which contain the venom), presumably for offensive and/or defensive purposes. Amazing!

 Below pictures of our resort, the Bella Costa.

After a few days of relaxation, we rented a cab and drove to the Caribbean side to stay at Playa Larga in a little Casa Particular on the beach. Awe, the beach life!

Playa Larga is well known for it's snorkelling and diving, along with birdwatching and it also has a crocodile farm. However, the town itself is still going through a major facelift with lots of construction as new Casa Particulars are being built and others being renovated. There were chickens and dogs everywhere along with rubbish and rubble. 

Basically, the town leaves little to be desired, but don't let that scare you off because Playa Larga is right beside Zapata National park, which is a nature lover's dream! To access it, you have to pay a park fee and hire a driver who takes you down a long road with lakes and swamps on both sides teeming with flamingos, pelicans, storks, swans, and all other types of waterfowl. 

It is gorgeous and seeing flamingos in the wild is a wonderful experience. The only thing I would change is to bring a really good camera next time. My iPhone didn't do the beauty of this place justice. 

While in Playa Larga, we also went snorkelling, the Caribbean side has some amazing fish and brightly coloured coral reefs, it's a thrill to snorkel and dive there.

Right before we left, we heard about Casa Ana, a house that has a botanical garden in the back and is known for attracting the Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world (averaging around 5 centimetres) and endemic to Cuba. We walked over and the lovely guy who runs the place let us come back to see if we could spot the beautiful, little bird. It was quite windy that morning so he wasn't terribly confident, but after a half hour or so, to our delight, a little Bee Hummingbird appeared -

Again, a good camera would have come in handy but you can kind of make out the bird above and here's a stock photo below (so tiny, so cute): 

From Playa Larga, we hired a taxi to take us to Havana, about a 2 hour drive northwest along a well kept highway with lots of sugarcane fields.

In Havana, we met up with Chris' uncle's friend, Cory, who we connected with back in Edmonton. Cory is from Edmonton, but is married to a Cuban lady and, apart from frequent visits back home, has been living there for the last 14 years. He has a groovy car and his neighbour, Carlos, who is also his good friend drives and navigates the streets of Havana with it.

We had 4 nights and 3 days with them and experienced so much over that time, that I could almost write a blog just on Havana.

We went to Cory's house in a suburb of Havana and noticed lots of little neighbourhood markets. This one below offered sugarcane and sugarcane juice, which Chris was very curious to try - 

Above, sugar cane juice being made by running sugar cane through a machine that crushes it to extract the juice. Chris chewing on a sugarcane, which in the end was actually rather sticky and fibrous and not so great, ha!

We also went to many of the government run shops looking for various things, including water which we couldn't find in 3 different stores. But they did have miles of isles of cookies and chick peas. :)

We drove to the area where many of the embassies are, including the Canadian Embassy, which looks like a fancy mansion - 

In Old Havana, we walked the streets and squares. We popped into the Floridita, a famous cocktail bar where Hemmingway spent many afternoons drinking daiquiris. Unfortunately, it was too packed to stay and try one.

Old Havana is so interesting, everywhere you look, there are little hidden gardens and courtyards, famous bars, museums, sculptures, narrow, cobblestone streets that go on forever, old churches, artist studios and musicians playing - 

But Chris' favourite part of Old Havana were the tangle of electrical wires here and there, just exposed to the public. This one above was on the side of a children's school. 😳

We spent a good part of a day in Old Havana and just scratched the surface so if you plan to go, give yourself 2 or 3 days for sure.  

One night we went to watch the sunset on the Malecon while being serenaded - 

This stretch of the Malecon was actually close to where we were staying which was also near the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba (kind of Cuba's equivalent to our Fairmont Hotels), where we made sure to stop in for a drink at the Churchill Bar on our first night there - 

Another day we went to artsy areas with lots of interesting sculptures and art instalments. There was this entire "art alley" you can walk through with loads of decoration, graffiti, and other brightly coloured sculptures along with small shops and bars, there was a lot going on here -  


We also went to the Experimental Graphic Art Studio, known in Spanish as el Taller Experimental de Grafica, which is an artist co-op in a giant warehouse at the end of an alley in Old Havana. I fell in love with the drawing/painting below and bought it for a keepsake. I think once I frame it, I'm going to put it in my own bead studio here at home.

And we were told not to miss a visit to the Fabrica de Arte, which was once a cooking oil factory, but has been turned into this multilevel art gallery and night club.  It's a huge maze like building, each room and level transformed into art galleries, stages, and bars - very cool!

We went on a cigar factory tour, which was fascinating - the art of rolling and packaging cigars is far more complex and challenging than I ever imagined. We then traveled to the beach town of Guanabo one afternoon, a place Cory lived for several years, to meet his friend who sells top quality cigars for a decent price.  We visited the Colon Cemetery, considered one of the most important cemeteries in the world, we went down to the harbour to check out the huge Almacenes Artisan's Market. We drove down to the Marina Hemingway where all the big yachts park and walked through Chinatown...  It was a fantastic time in Havana, I feel so grateful we had our own tour guides showing us around. 

On our last night we said goodbye and early the next morning, we boarded a plane back to Canada. Below Carlos, me and his girlfriend, Jules outside of our Casa Particular.

Since being back, like I mentioned above, I had to buy a new computer and have been trying to get back into a normal routine. I've started back at the torch, working on some new things, inspired by a little time off. Hopefully, I'll be able to show them soon but until then, thank you for taking the time read all the way through this long blog! Wishing you warm days ahead. xo 




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  • Ruth Bajger: April 26, 2019

    Thank you so much. You have shared your wonderful and interesting journey . Would love to go to Cuba and I now know why.

  • Carole Semkowich: April 12, 2019

    Wow! Now I REALLY want to go to Cuba! I’ll follow your exact itinerary.

    Glad you had a good time and got a chance to re-charge.

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