Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category



‘Tis the season of re-gifting.


Or, in some cases, re-re-gifting, or maybe just giving the appearance of doing so.


Playing “Guess the Gift” is something of a tradition in our family.  When your shopping is being done on budget, and one that is never enough to begin with, most of your shopping is done in search of “The Great Bargain”.

bargain shopping

Bargain shopping typically does not come with the fancy shmancy boxes to wrap the gifts in so the receiver of the gifts can’t guess what it is just from the feel and shape of the wrapped gift.


biting the giftThe gift-wrapping challenge begins.  The gift recipients study their gifts carefully, resorting to thoughtfully weighing, sizing up, feeling up, shaking, and even biting, their gifts trying to figure out what they are before unwrapping them.  While you seek out boxes whose dimensions and shape will hide the true nature of the gift inside, stuffing the boxes so items can’t rattle, or even adding a strategically placed fake rattler.


re-giftedAnd then the gift opening fun begins.  The wrapping paper is unceremoniously ripped off, or perhaps that is the ceremony, revealing the box within.  And then the joke emerges.  What did you get this year?  I got the Sony radio/cd player I bought myself this past summer, re-gifted something I already owned.   My twelve year old got a Dremel saw, used only once, re-gifted.  My partner got a tissue box, the ultimate in re-gift, since the tissue papers it once held have all been used.  Of course, the boxes are only camouflage for the real present inside.

happy holidays

merry christmashappy hanukkahhappy kwanzaa.jpg





… or whatever else you celebrate at this festive time of year.


And now my gift to you …

Garden Grove Cover-FinalGarden Grove can be downloaded in multiple ebook formats FREE on Smashwords using coupon code YV67F until Dec 31/15.

 Can you handle a little darkness in your life?



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christmas stress.jpg


With the day of merriment and cheer bearing down on us, ‘tis the season of the greatest of frustrations.  A year of living frugally is gleefully thrown out the window and you spend like someone just gave you a million dollars to spend in only ten days or you die…


Okay, about as gleeful as one can be pushing their way through a mindless throng of shoppers in a daze at a mall that is more of a standing room only carnival of stress with the ambiance of an over-filled cattle chute.  Add to that the calendar days zooming by, and the urgent need to buy a bunch of stuff for people whom you have absolutely no idea what to buy for.  Christmas cards sit by the wayside, un-carded.  Baking needs to be baked.  Cleaning, decorating, and planning.  A glut of festivities swirl around you, planned and announced, with the ever-present “secret Santa” gift and donations.  And all of this is done around your already busy normal daily life of working full time, groceries, meals, cleaning and laundry, and time for family.


christmas shoppingOne trip to the mall at Christmas leaves you feeling like one of the characters in the current season of Walking Dead.  christmas zomie.jpg

jack baurAnd dodging your way through the gamut of festivities and get-togethers is reminiscent of Jack Bauer endlessly racing through a season of 24, minus the bombs, torturing for information, and the impending end of the world is only the feeling caused by the rush of the season racing by.




christmas leave it to beaver supper.jpgAnd then there are the good, the bad, and the ugly of family dynamics at this festive season.  Family that maybe do not see each other for months or even years are pushed together, willingly or not.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have a functional family.  Families run the gamut from loving, caring, and respectful to the savagely emotionally vicious.christmas family fight.jpg


Among the joy and happiness Christmas is supposed to bring, are the boatloads of stress and frustrations.  Whether your family and life are functional or dysfunctional, it is an inevitable part of the season, and one that can start months ahead.


Mix into that, the need to continue with your writing, editing, blogging, promoting, and general writer stuff.  You hope to cash in on the Christmas shopping flood and sell some copies of your books.


Of course, a good portion of the frustration and adversity of Christmas is mostly self-induced, worrying over the right decorations, the right gifts, the meal and gatherings turning out just right.


But writers are no shrinking violets when it comes to seeking out and embracing adversity.  By necessity, it’s the way writers need to be.


stormIf there is one thing writers might be said to thrive on, it is adversity.  Why?  Because adversity is what writing a compelling story is about.  You throw adversity at your most beloved characters, your most reviled, your protagonists and antagonists both.  Adversity drives the story.  Adversity gives your characters reason to go above and beyond the normal, to change to become something they were not before.


Adversity comes in many forms.  Physical or emotional obstacles, self-created and unduly imposed by outside forces.  The intentional, unavoidable, and recklessly accidental.  Human, animal, plant, mineral, weather, it’s all fair game.


As a writer, you study and observe adversity; in the news, in the lives around you, and in movies and books.  What causes it, how it affects victims, witnesses, and those who cause it.  How it changes them.  How can you use this to manipulate your characters, to manipulate your readers to love or hate the characters as you want them to?


And now, as we enter into the last week of the Christmas season, feeling the stress and frustration of the last minute mall trips, building all the adversity of the season into our stories for the love of our readers, wishing we were not so busy and that we have more time instead of tossing together a quick and mediocre blog post in tiny bursts between all the other stuff, and, wow, this sentence is run on…


… I give to you the gift of a little more adversity.


Garden Grove can be downloaded in multiple ebook formats FREE on Smashwords using coupon code YV67F until Dec 31/15.


Can you handle a little darkness in your life?



Garden Grove Cover-Final

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It’s that time of year again when we take a day out of our lives to stop and remember the men and women who made huge sacrifices fighting for others.

Ideally we wouldn’t need a special day to remember.

Ideally there would be no wars to be fought, no blood spilled, and no atrocities inflicted.

Since that isn’t the case, ideally we wouldn’t need a special day to remember because we would remember every day.

But sometimes we need special reminders.  One day a year obviously isn’t enough or we wouldn’t still have men, women, and children suffering at the hands of that terrible monster we call War.

It seems that Remembrance Day has less meaning to each generation.

The legions were started to help war veterans having difficulties fitting back into society after returning home from the First World War.

As more wars followed, the number of veterans grew and so did the need to remember the sacrifices they made as they fought, suffered injuries to both mind and body, and were killed.

But these days it seems the faces of the veterans propagated by the media around Veterans Day are growing older and fewer.

Some might even think the veterans’ organizations and legions will become a thing of the past as the old veterans from WWI and WWII vanish into the distant memories of the history books.

Perhaps that makes it even more important now than ever to remember the men and women who fought for others, for their cause, for their freedom.  It’s more important because the veterans are not a vanishing breed.  On the contrary, wars continue to be fought every day right now and more veterans are returned home injured in mind and body, or for burial, somewhere in the world each and every day.

The veterans of war are not vanishing or dying off; their faces are just becoming unrecognizable to us as new generations of them are created.  They are not just the old grandfathers and grandmothers and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers.  They are the sisters and brothers, the fathers and mothers, and the sons and daughters.  Their faces are decades younger than the veterans whose faces are splashed across the Veterans Day advertisements and newspaper stories.

And, to the newest generation, as with the newest generation for generations past, Remembrance Day is about having a vacation.  A day off from school with their parents home from work.  A day for learning new songs and poems about stuff they don’t really know with meanings they don’t really understand.

Knowing the importance of it much more than the newest generation does, and seeing how the real meaning is vanishing over generations, I want to make sure my own kids know the significance and the importance.  I try to explain it to them, and I know school does the same, and somewhere along the way they will eventually learn the deeper meaning of it all.  The sooner the better, and maybe one day they can help the world evolve into a new world where war is a thing of the past.

It is not just about remembering that people died for us long ago, it is about remembering everything that war is.  The cruelties and atrocities committed against the innocent.  The loss of life, property, and the indignities forced on others.  How war makes good people do terrible things and bad people do even worst things.  It’s about remembering the victims and the warriors fighting on their behalf.

This year, as my daughters eagerly planned for their day off holiday, I decided it would be a good idea to have them do something to earn that day off, the extra play time, and the extra movie night they wanted.  To earn it by showing me what Remembrance Day is to them.

So, I asked them to write me a story or poem about what they think Remembrance Day is about.

This is what they wrote (for the sake of legibility I typed up what they wrote) …


As I’m sure you noticed, the six year old wrote “Happy Remembrance Day” and “Have a Happy Remembrance Day” on her poem.

Now what could possibly be happy about a day dedicated to remembering death and war?

Well, I asked her that.  I asked her what makes a Remembrance Day a day to be happy.

Her answer – “A happy Remembrance Day is when you remember that the soldiers died for you.”

Maybe she has a deeper understanding than I thought possible for a six year old.

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There are two things we noticed immediately about the Cuban people that we came into contact with.

First was their unfailing friendliness.  It seemed that nearly everyone we dealt with was friendly, courteous, and helpful.

Perhaps that is in part because they were the lucky ones.  No matter how bad we thought their job was, at least they had jobs.  And maybe it was in part because of their culture, a culture dependent on us vacationers and our tips.  Despite having to take the often unreasonable and undeserved abuse of a bunch of overtired and cranky vacationers, they still managed to turn around with a polite smile to help the next cranky vacationer.

The second thing we noticed goes hand in hand with the first.  Everybody wants a tip.  While we’re used to certain service positions coming with the assumption that tipping is their due (like waitresses, waiters, and hairdressers to name a few); that tip culture in Cuba seemed to involve everyone.

Imagine going on a local sight-seeing trip with multiple stops, a bus ride, boat ride, a meal, and a show – all inclusive – where every stage of the trip involves the people passing around the tip hat and cheerfully letting you know what is considered a proper tip.  And then as you get back on the bus to go home, your tour guide reminds you to tip the driver too.  By the time it’s all done, you’ve likely doubled the cost of that already pricey sight-seeing trip.

The big difference was that, unlike our local waitresses, these people were still friendly on the occasions when you didn’t tip.  And let’s face it, when you spend a week at an all inclusive resort where everyone from the cleaning lady who makes your beds to the lifeguard at the beach are looking for tips every time they rush to do something for you – it’s not easy to always be tip-ready on your first inclusive vacation.

Almost there, just a few more buildings to go.

We struck it pretty lucky with our room by all accounts.  Our room was huge for a single room, with not two but three double beds.  It was nice and clean and in decent shape.

We had a bit of a trek to get to the main hotel and the beach, but it was a nice walk and we had only ourselves and a bag of sunscreen to carry.  So, instead of a two minute walk, it may take us anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, all depending on how much the kids dawdle to look for the little lizards that come out in the afternoon.

Pool with "Snack Bar" in the background

The extra walk also meant we were in the nice quiet area where the kids were asleep within moments of going to bed, while their movie prattled on quietly to deaf ears.  All the loud partiers were in the main hotel building close to the beach.  But we still had a pool close by and a 24 hour “snack bar”, which turned out to be loosely translated from a bar that serves bar food like hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs.

Some of the people from our plane that we talked to weren’t so lucky.  One guy on his own was put in a small basement room of the main building.  Some begging, pleading, and a tip got him moved to better accommodations.

A woman and her husband were put in a room she was completely unhappy about.  But then this woman seemed to be completely unhappy about a lot of things every time we saw her.  She said their room was full of mold that was painted over, peeling paint, and that she couldn’t breathe.  All valid complaints, but despite her angry words, demands, and complaints, the hotel staff couldn’t find them another room.  Oddly enough, it was about that same time that her husband got drunk and went AWOL.  My guess is that he’d had enough of her complaining.  This same woman had also been loud, obnoxious, and rude to the hotel staff on our first day, making sure everyone in the area knew she was tough enough to kick in the locked door keeping everyone’s baggage safe while we were all waiting for rooms to be ready.

On our way to the "family" buildings

Another family that was in the cluster of family buildings where we were had a room like ours, but poolside.  We were envious until we found out they had no hot water (and that lasted for days).  Being on the ground floor, they also found they were sharing their room halfway through the week with the large cockroaches common to tropical areas.

We did get our turn to rough it without hot water, but luckily it was repaired that same afternoon.

Of course, you also get what you paid for and we were in one of the cheapest low end resorts.

Most of the vacation was spent at the beach and visiting the two swimming pools. 

Ah, there's the beach ...

Unfortunately, Sidney didn’t have a whole lot of fun, but all that lounge-time gave her lots of time to just sleep and get lots of fresh air.  What better place to be sick than in a relaxing tropical paradise?  The poor girl started running a high fever the night we arrived and was sick the whole vacation.  Luckily we were prepared for it with all the medicines a sick kid might need.

I spent most of the week by Sidney’s side, sitting pool or beachside watching the other two have fun.

Let's go Dad!


Steve and Robyn, of course, were having a blast.  Robyn discovered the coconut slushy (Pina Colada mix without the alcohol), and they both spent a lot of time playing in the water together.

Going in to ride the waves


Robyn couldn’t get enough of riding the large rolling waves of sea water, and thus our Robynism for today:

 With the large rolling waves of the beach in Cuba, you wait and watch for the wave and turn away just as it hits, jumping so you ride the wave.  Otherwise you’ll just end up with a face (and mouth) full of salty sea water and knocked off your feet.

Being all of about 3 ½ feet tall, Robyn couldn’t reach the bottom and happily rode the waves up and down in her life jacket.  One day the waves were higher and even more fun for her.

With great delight she squealed, “This is AWSOME!!!  It’s like riding a roller coaster from Evil Heaven!”

Of course, it’s not hard to figure out that at six years old she’s just coming up with the best way she can to describe that other place (Hell) – she just couldn’t remember the name of it.

That SPF 60 lotion sure did its job.  With all those hours spent on the beach, we surprisingly weren’t all that more tanned by the end of the week.




Sleeping the bug away

It wasn’t all boredom sitting beachside with a sick kid, though.

  It was somewhat entertaining watching the people who were so determined to get deep enough to ride the waves, but just didn’t have the timing right.  They would get just so far only to be tossed over on their heads (or arses) and out of the water by the waves.

I even managed to ride the waves myself once for a short time.  I held on to Steve for dear life, of course.  I’m not exactly a good swimmer.  It was the day of bigger waves, but no yellow warning flag and we’d made it out past the knock-you-on-your-butt zone with no problem.  We were a little further than most of the people in the water when three big waves came in, rolling in one right behind the other.  When we looked after the third wave, we were suddenly two of the very few people left in the water.  Anyone closer to shore had been dumped unceremoniously out of the water by the waves.

This was also when we had our third casualty of the week – my new bathing suit top and the first bikini I’ve bought since I was twenty (and I’m not even going to say how many years that’s been!).  Apparently George bathing suits with plastic fasteners just aren’t meant to actually be worn swimming.  Luckily for all the other beach goers, nobody saw a thing.  The saggy boobs of a middle-aged housewife with two kids and a few pounds to lose is not something anyone is going to want to see.

And who doesn’t go on vacation without making at least one friend?  Not my kid!

It didn’t take long before our usually outgoing six year old had bartenders giving her high-fives on sight, waitresses stopping her to give her a hug and a kiss on the head, and was amusing French foreigners sharing our lunch table in the packed cafeteria with her complaints the food wasn’t spicy enough.

Robyn and Steve even managed to make themselves a couple of friends very quickly in a single mom there with her daughters, one of them just the right age for our girls to play with.  They played in the water at the beach and the pools, and even had lunch together when Sidney was feeling too sick to go for lunch and spent the afternoon sleeping in bed.  The girls played in the sand at the beach and sat together on the bus for the catamaran and dolphins tour.

Hanging out on the catamaran

We managed our one and only outing at almost the end of the week – a full day excursion on the catamaran.  This was a boat ride with a stop for snorkelling, lunch on the beach of a small island, and swimming with the dolphins.  With a sick kid all week and tips eating up most of our spending money, we were lucky to manage that trip.  Unfortunately for Robyn, their friends ended up on another catamaran boat and, except for waving at them in the water during the snorkelling stop, we didn’t see them again until the bus trip back to the resort.  Sidney and Robyn were too nervous to try swimming with the fishes.










Swimming with the dolphins









And some other stuff too – While most of the food was just different enough to make it not always very palatable, we always managed to find something to eat.

Well, all of us except for Sidney who was by far the fussiest person on the entire Island of Cuba.  The rest of us ate well enough, especially when we ate at the “snack bar” and for our turn in the Italian restaurant.  Sidney pretty much lived the week on not much more than bananas and water.  We got her to eat pizza one day, one of her usual staples of life, and tried every meal to get her to eat something more than bananas.  Apparently even the bread was inedible – she didn’t like the butter.  The coffee was very different than we have here.  And the pork chops they had at lunch one day were possibly the best pork chops I’ve ever had.  Or maybe it was because we’d grown accustomed to the food there.  Despite the lack of seasonings, we only broke out the salt, pepper, and garlic salt for our last two days of our vacation.

Another thing to get used to is the lack of toilet seats in Cuba.  Finding a toilet the kids would use that had both a toilet seat and toilet paper available was a challenge.  If you were lucky there was even soap too.  But don’t count on anything but your pants to dry your hands on.

We must not forget what was probably the best part of the vacation for the kids – the day the clowns came!







And when at last our vacation was over, it was time for one more lesson in vacationing overseas.


Our flight home wasn’t as crazy early as the flight to Cuba.  We were up early, rushed to pack every last thing and give the room a once over, and rushed off to put some breakfast in everyone’s tummy and double-check the time for the bus one last time.

We waited around a little, trying to find the bellhop to help with the luggage and, watching the clock closely, gave up and headed back to our room to haul it all for the long trek to the main building.

Now here’s where the lesson comes in.  We got there, thinking we would still have time to wait for the bus, only to learn they’ve been waiting (and desperately looking) for us!  We were half an hour late for the bus!  I’m not sure if we would have been able to scrounge enough for the tax fare with tip to get us to the airport.  Yep, we could have missed the plane, the only plane, and would have had to catch the next one – in a week.

The time on my watch had been changed!

I’m pretty sure I know exactly what happened.

Paranoid about not hearing the little watch beep alarm, worried about not waking up on time, stressing over what if we don’t make the bus – I couldn’t sleep.  Most of the night was a groggy blur of fitful dozing and waking, checking to make sure it’s not daylight (remember, it was full light out well before six a.m.), and fumbling around in the dark for the watch on the night stand and trying (usually more than once unsuccessfully) to find the right button for the light to check the time before dozing off for a few more minutes.

Next time I’m bringing a backup clock!

But we made it, and after a very long wait and many lines followed by a much longer wait at the airport – we were on our way home to icy post-blizzard roads.


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What rocks more than being in a tropical place like Cuba with five days and five nights to frolic and have fun while it’s -40 wind-chills and blizzards back home?

Riding a catamaran in rough seas.

Waiting for the bus to the catamaran



 Lucky for us it wasn’t rough seas on the day we took the catamaran tour.  It also started out as a pretty good day – we didn’t have to medicate the seven year old for the fever she had from the first night of our vacation.  We made our one and only outing late in the vacation, with only one more day of fun in the sun to follow it.




A nice peaceful day, riding the waves and heading out until the land we left behind disappeared into the waves.  Still not quite feeling herself, seven year old Sidney just kind of took it all in.  Meanwhile, Robyn took advantage of exploring a new bathroom – repeatedly.  I swear this kid has a thing for bathrooms.  It doesn’t matter where you go, or how recently she went, she always has to go.


We watched the catamarans ahead of us disappear into the distance, and watched the catamarans behind catch up, feeling almost a camaraderie with these fellow cataramaners, all of us travelling the sea towards the same goal.

Robyn was tickled at her new “friends”, sea gulls that loyally followed the boat during our voyage.




We had a stop at a reef for snorkeling, catamarans arriving and weighing anchor around the reef like pioneers circling the wagons for the night.

While the snorkelers geared up, our guide instructed them in the finer points of snorkeling.




“Reef here,” the guide said, gesturing to the shallow waters of the reef in the middle of the circled catamarans.

“You swim here.  Fishies here.”  He indicated the reef.

“Sharks out there,” the guide added, his arm sweeping to include all of the waters beyond the circled boats.  “Ok.”

And off the snorkelers went to fill the little reef in the middle of what was apparently shark infested waters.



I suspected the shark warning wasn’t all joke when I noticed one of the guides on the next boat looking a little concerned while he tried to get the attention of one swimmer who went past the edge of the reef.



After the swimming with the fishies, we were loaded up and whisked off to a tropical island for an outdoor barbeque lunch with the biggest chicken legs I’ve ever seen.  After lunch, of course, there was time for frolicking in the water, making giant anthills in the beach sand (which was very different and much more pliable than the sand at the resort beach), and the kids collecting enough seashells to fill an ocean liner.


Loading back into the boat, we all had a chance to ooh and aah over the shadow of a large stingray gliding around beneath the surface of the water by the dock – only feet from where some of the kids had been playing in the water.



We were on our way to the main event of the day – the dolphins!




Is that tourist getting mugged or hugged?







































And then it was long ride back …





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It’s Thursday evening, we’ve all been up since two A.M., spent an endless day of waiting, travelling, and more waiting, and amazingly not one of us has slept other than Robyn’s brief passing out on the bus going to the resort.

I popped some ibuprofen and we had our luggage locked in the baggage room while we put the kids into swimsuits because we were all overheating in our travelling clothes, grabbed their lifejackets, and took a walk to the beach while still waiting for our room. It was a pretty windy day, so the waves were too big for swimming.

 Robyn was quick to take full advantage of the powdery white sand.

Steve received a caution to watch her closely from the lifeguard when Robyn went to play at the edge of the sea where the water was washing up to cover her legs as she sat before washing out again, much to Robyn’s great delight.

Although they would bring her back, the waves were strong enough to suck her right off the beach and toss her about.  That’s when he pointed out the yellow warning flag we didn’t see at first.

We didn’t get any pictures of the waves that day.  I was too headachy to bother with the camera.

We finally got into our room, I popped some acetaminophen to go with the ibuprofen that had barely dented the migraine, and we found some food at what we later learned was the 24 hour snack bar.  We found out later that “snack bar” turned out to be their translation for a bar that serves bar food.  It was also where we found that life saving necessity – pizza.

Sidney got a lot of looks and comments that afternoon and seemed to be enjoying the attention.  After all, how many beautiful little girls walk around the sunny resorts of Cuba wearing a bathing suit and winter boots?  Next time maybe I’ll remember to make sure she brings home her runners for vacation.

Back to the room, setting up the kids with the portable mini car DVD player, and we discovered that by this time Sidney was burning up with a high fever.  Good thing I emptied the kids medicine cupboard into the suitcase.  We had everything we might need, except the thermometer to see just how high the fever was.

We all slept hard that night, waking up much too early the next morning to the bright rays of sunshine lighting up the whole room – before six A.M.

Ok, you’re cute. But I don’t think we want to eat you.


Showered and somewhat rested, an hour and a half trying to get ibuprofen into Sidney, and we were all feeling better and off exploring the resort and searching for food.

It’s Friday, the vacation is young, and we have five days of sitting at the beach, sitting by the pool, sitting at the beach, sitting by the pool, and enjoying the all inclusive food and drinks.









Now this is what vacations are all about.

Getting drinks at the poolside bar.

Teasing Daddy.

Ok, so Robyn finally got NEAR a chair. But only because the pool water is too cold for polar bears and she's trying to freeze Daddy.

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I was a little nervous when we arrived in Cuba.  This was my first time leaving Canada, other than a few trips driving over the border to the United States, and my first plane ride since I was bordering on just beginning my teen years, many years before all the fear and high security for airlines.  The news and the world online are filled with horror stories of all the worst things that can possibly happen to the unsuspecting traveller.  Of course, most of them seem to revolve around U.S. airlines and border security and we were travelling from Canada on a Canadian airline, but those details did nothing for the nerves.

We went through the necessary check points, scanners, and metal detectors surprisingly quickly.  And the Cuban border security was even friendlier than the Canadian security at the airport at home.  Ok, so none of them were actually friendly per say, but they did go about their duties in a matter-of-fact and non-intimidating way.

We had arrived in Cuba, leaving -40 wind chills behind to set out into +28 temperatures.  We had found summer!

A bit of a wait on an air-conditioned tour bus for all the passengers to get their luggage and load up, with the already drunk revellers at the back of the bus, and we were on our way rolling through the roads of Cuba to our resort.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the drive.  The main animal seemed to be goats.  There was sea on one side and bare land filled with low bush and trees on the other for the most part.  But it is a beautiful island, full of a lot of untouched ruggedness and tropical trees and we first-timers marvelled at the wonders of seeing a new country in a new part of the world for the very first time.

Many of the cars in Cuba are vintage to us, while others looked like little electric cars of the future.  The one thing many of the cars had in common was the finish burning off from the top down from the salt water. We’re used to cars that rot out from the bottom up from all the salt and junk we dump on our streets all winter so we aren’t slipping and sliding into each other all over the roads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the little bubble scooter, sort of a motorcycle powered rickshaw that serves as a form of mini taxicab in Cuba.

There was another form of Cuban travel that we saw often, parked randomly around the resorts and just off of the roadsides.  This one seemed to range from scruffy little horses to camels.

When we saw houses, it was quite an experience to see for the first time.  Some of the houses further in and closer to the resorts were beautiful, with their own Cuban charm.  But mostly the houses we passed on the drive were depressing.

It was unusual for us to see lines of laundry flapping from every balcony of their little mini-apartment like housing, and in front of every single dwelling.  It seemed like an island-wide wash day and no one has a dryer.  None of the houses seemed to have glass or screens in their windows.  Not all even had doors.  But that wasn’t what was depressing.

Many of these people live in housing conditions that would mortify Canadians to learn that animals lived in these buildings.  We didn’t see any from the inside, but from the outside it was clear these houses were in a state of crumbling ruin.  Many even had large holes in their roofs or entire roof sections missing.

Some people even lived in unfinished buildings, living on the bottom level while the upper floor stood as an empty and roofless stark grey concrete reminder of the need many of the Cuban people seem to be living in.  These were actually some of the nicer homes that could be seen in the outlying areas further from where all the resorts could be found.   They, at least, looked relatively new compared to most of the housing we saw, and in pretty good condition.

Steve sat on one side of the bus with Sidney, trying to keep her entertained on the drive, while I sat opposite them with Robyn.  Robyn had spent most of the trip with her face glued to the window, jammed for a while between the window and the seat in front of us while she held a conversation with the passenger in front of her, and finally falling into silence as she watched the Cuban world go by.  I have no idea how long she watched, but after a while I realized that she was sound asleep.  I eased her out of there and leaned her back, where she snuggled into me for the rest of the drive without a hint of waking up.

And because every adventure needs a little excitement, our bus driver didn’t let us down.  We were cruising along between resorts, casually staring out windows, chatting, everyone eagerly waiting to see what their resort would like like compared to the rest, when we were suddenly thrown forward in our seats when the bus driver braked like someone’s life depended on it.  And it did.

I clutched at Robyn, catching her before she flew forward off the seat, looking around in alarm along with every other passenger on the bus to the sounds of gasped wonderings of what was happening.

Outside my side of the bus the driver of a little moped scooter like this one barely managed to avoid wiping out completely as the scooter careened wildly out of the path of the bus that had just almost creamed them.  Skidding to a stop more on one of the driver’s legs than the scooter’s wheels, the passenger fell off the bike onto her knees, visibly shaken even at our distance and literally kissing the ground.

That couple definitely will be going home with a story to tell.  No one on the bus except the driver seemed to have seen who got in who’s way, and we weren’t sure he could even speak English, but thankfully it didn’t look like anyone was hurt.  We went on our merry way with excited chatter, a bus full of relief, and Robyn blissfully slept through the whole thing.

With some stops along the way to drop people off at other resorts, we had finally arrived at our destination.  The kids were bored, Steve was anxious to hit the pool, and by this time I had already had a raging migraine for hours and was feeling downright nauseous.  We had all been up since 2 A.M. and still had hours to wait for our room.  Fortunately for us, they had very comfortable chairs in the large lobby and Robyn had discovered the coconut slushy.

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