Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- Lipstick

Hi Everyone!

I am super excited I decided to make this a makeup Top Ten Thursday. These are my favorite ones!

Makeup is my ultimate obsession to discuss.  Did you know that scientists have found makeup first appearing in history as far back as 7 millennia ago? Adorning the face, mainly around the eyes and lips, was not just used by our ancestors as a beauty enhancer, but as a status symbol within tribes and communities. A mark of pride being a leader, a warrior, an elder, or whatever.  Both men and women painted their face. They concocted their face adornments by crushing and mixing natural resources like oils, colorful bugs and fish scales, minerals, clays, rocks and gems.  Makeup has evolved over time, filtering through cultures and technologies, to become what we know it to be today.  GLORIOUS!  haha


OK. Enough history lesson.  Let’s talk LIPSTICK!

Lipstick can truly transform a face without wearing much other makeup at all. With endless color choices and formulations, you can find the right one for you!  Ok, so, there are so many lipsticks on the market where does one begin?  If you have trouble with finding one this quick walk through before my Top Ten list may help guide you. If, however, you need more hands on help, there are so many people who work at makeup counters across the globe who are there to help, too.  Also, while there you could get a quick makeover!

Lipstick coverage and finish–  These depend on your personal preference, and/or, needs for a look.  Lipstick finishes vary from satin, cream, stain, sheer, matte, pearlized, or glossy.  Keep finish in mind, but there is also technology behind some of the brands to think about like moisturizing, color transfer resistance and lip plumping.

The most covering lipstick finishes will be matte and color transfer resistance.  With the upside of coverage and a matte look, they tend to lack moisture, which can dry your lips out.  Dry or cracked lips are not what we are aiming for here.  If you have more mature skin, however, applying these types of lipsticks may stop lipstick bleeding, which is when color bleeds outside of the natural lip edge onto the skin. Satin and cream are the most popular finishes out there as they glide on smoothly, and have good staying power.  Pearlized, aka frosted, are metallic glimmer pigmented lipsticks that can be found in most finishes.  Sheer and glossy finishes have the least amount of coverage or staying power, and are used either alone for a natural look or over lipstick.  Stain finish** is the most natural, as the product uses stains to color the lips, leaving flat pigment but no physical product.

How to choose color?  Let your natural skin tone guide you. Ok, what I am about to say may sound weird, but believe me.. it works!  Most makeup colors are split by neutral, cool and warm.  How to know where your skin color falls lies in your wrists.  YES, wrists! Take a glance down at your wrists.  Do you see your veins?  If you see blue and purple veins mapping up your wrist, then you probably have cool skin tone.   Warm skin tones normally have greenish hued veins visible. And, olive skin, as a rule, is usually neutral; so are those that have a harder time deciphering the color of their veins.

This is the best part of choosing lip colors and finishes.. experiment!  Look at your natural lip color.  For an everyday color lip, start by trying on lip shades that are two shades (light or dark) from your natural lip color.  For a dramatic lip, have fun trying on all the red, dark browns and funky colors on the market that has an undertone of your kin tone.  For example, if you want a red and have a cool skin tone, look at a lot of reds. You will notice some have an underlying blue tone to them.  These will be the right reds for you.  If you have two different colored lips, like the bottom lip is lighter than the top, choose the darker color as a starting point.

To line or not to line?  My rule of thumb is to always use a lip liner. Using one is not the only option, but it is the best option if you want..

⇢a well-defined lip look;

⇢a longer lasting lip color;

⇢fuller looking lips;

⇢to even out misshapen lips;

⇢to create color contrast;

⇢to stop lipstick bleeding.

Choosing a color lip liner that matches your natural lip is preferable, but it does depend on the look you want to achieve.  I actually like to use a darker tone compared to my lipstick color.

One more thing before I get to the Top Ten Thursday list of what products I like, let’s talk about how to apply lipstick.  All concealer, foundation* and face powder should be applied beforehand.  Actually, dabbing on a little extra concealer or foundation to your lips helps with keeping the product on longer. 

Draw your lip liner along the rim of your lips. If you are wary or have never used lip liner before, draft light dots of color along the outline of your lips with your liner. Follow through with your liner, completing the full bottom and top lines.  For fuller lips, apply color just along the outer edge.

Apply lipstick, either straight from the tube or with a lip brush, to your lips starting at the center (of either the bottom or top lip).  Swipe the color towards each corner, filling in all visible lip space. If you can’t reach with the tube, use your pinky or the paper core of a Q-tip. 

With a tissue, blot your lips to remove excess (or from teeth). I like to reapply a little more color.  

*Before I apply foundation I use a lip balm. My favorite is Lancome’s Absolue Lip Balm because it’s not greasy under my foundation.

A little bit of information about myself before I get into the list; so you know why I like the colors I mention below.

Naturally, I am fair-skinned with light freckles, a few darker beauty marks, too. I have dark brown hair and eyes. Though people at a glance categorize me as a warm tone, my skin tone is actually cool.  (my wrists say so. haha) I usually wear the lightest foundation colors available.  I will try on almost any lip color.  Almost being that I am personally not a fan of lipstick colors in the unconventional high fashion colors like blues, grays, greens, or, yellows.

All of these lipsticks that I like listed below were worn with a lip liner; most often Clinique’s Plummy, or Perfect Plum by Avon, or Vamp by Chanel.

Ok, let’s go!

Valeria’s Top Ten Thursday – Lipstick

  1.  Rouge in Love, Lancome-  I think this lipstick is an absolute win when it comes to color choices, finish and feel. This lipstick is so lightweight, yet lasts all day while leaving my lips feeling silky smooth (cream finish).  That is not common in the longer wearing lip formulas. My favorite colors are Sweet Embrace*, Violet Coquette, Tea Rose, and Rouge Valentine.  *Sweet Embrace is one of my day-to-day color choices, worn with Plummy lip liner from Clinique.
  2. MatteTrance, Pat McGrath Labs- Ok, so I bought this lipstick because the packaging was so cute with the lips on it, but the lipstick inside ended up being PRETTY SPECTACULAR!!  This lipstick glides on like a cream but is a matte, and lasts all day.  My lips never feel dry.  It comes in a variety of fun shades from nudes to plums to reds to BLACK!   My favorite colors are Modern Woman and Anecdote. And, I have my eye on buying Faux Pas for the Summer.
  3. Color Design, Lancome-  This lipstick is fantastic on so many levels.  Namely, CHOICE!!  They offer 42 shades; which is dizzying!  Also, they offer five different finishes. I tried their matte, sheen and metallic, and they all lasted most of the day.  The matte finish did not dry out my lips, which is usually a problem for me. My favorite colors are Into the Rapture, Hit List, Fashion Icon and Bow and Arrow.    Very diverse color options here; it’s a definite great lipstick to check out!!
  4. MAC Lipstick, in cremesheen finish-  The finish of this lipstick is a cream without a lot of shine.  I personally love this lipstick and the finish it comes in. It glides on smoothly, and even though it’s not technically a long-lasting lipstick, it lasts almost all day on me.  My favorite color is Creme Cup and the newest Spring line color Boom, Boom, Bloom in Hey, Kiss Me!  Gah I love this pink so much!
  5. Audacious, Nars- This lipstick comes in an insane amount of colors, 46 shades!! I really like how long-lasting the color is without drying my lips out, and it felt light.  The texture is smooth cream, and glides on full coverage in one swipe. I tried a few different colors on but the colors I like best are Dayle, Liv, and, my favorite, Silvia!
  6. Rouge Coco, Chanel– This hydrating lipstick is what I consider the creme de la creme of lipsticks.  The texture goes on smooth. The coverage is opaque with one swipe. The feel is lightweight. The scent (or taste) is beautiful. It’s all that a person wants in a lipstick.  I mean, it’s Chanel, the name says it all.  My favorite colors are Erik, Mademoiselle and Lover.
  7. Stay All Day, Stila, liquid lipstick- All I can say is this liquid lipstick is potent!  Talk about high pigment and long-lasting! Normally, I am not a fan of liquid lipsticks.  They never last and they end up looking flat. But not this one.  I own the color Paradiso, which is a bold berry color.  It is richly pigmented, and lasts most of the day.  When it does start to fade the color is still even.
  8. Addict Lip Glow, Dior- This stuff is crazy good!!!!!!! Let me put one more exclamation point to get my feelings across. Dior has created a product that comes in three finishes – a glow, a matte glow and a holographic glow. I know this is  technically a balm, I know, but with a darker shaded lip liner it just has a super sexy, lip plumping effect that you have to try! My favorite colors are Pink and Holo Purple.
  9. Hot Lips, Charlotte Tilbury- Everyone wants hot pouty lips, am I right?  This lipstick will not disappoint. The packaging is sleek. The lipstick is lightweight, but is full coverage. This lipstick does have a scent to it, however, like a brownie, but if you like brownies you will not care!  My favorite shade is KimKW with my Avon Plum lip liner.
  10. Butter Lipstick, NYX- This is a hydrating lipstick under $7!  SEVEN BUCKS, PEOPLE! What I am saying is, that this is a major steal! And, it comes in 31 hot shades.  This lipstick glides on smoothly. The coverage is great and even.  My favorite shades are Daydreaming, Cherry and Hunk.

** I didn’t list any stain products in this post. So let’s call this number 11.. If you are looking for a stain, the best one I ever used was Benefit’s Benetint Cheek and Lip Stain.    It is a rosy red stain that comes in a snappy glass nail polish type bottle with a brush.  It smells really good and does stain the skin for hours.

My gosh, what a flashback. I used this stain for years, too. First one I had ever bought was back when Benefit Cosmetics was only found inside Henri Bendel’s.  Remember when Henri Bendel’s was in Massachusetts!!?? OR OPEN!!?? 

Ok, enough of me makeup gabbing!  BYE MY BEAUTIES!!

Let me know what your favorite LIPSTICbrands and/or LIPSTICcolors are by commenting below here or on FB!  xoxox

Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- In Memory of Gordon

With a heavy heart I am dedicating this Top Ten post to our family pet, Gordon. 

Tuesday evening we had to say goodbye to Gordon, our beautiful cat.  Over last weekend, we watched in disbelief as our little buddy declined in health, and, by the time we saw the vet on Monday morning, he was unable to be assisted with medical intervention.   He never showed any symptoms before last weekend, it was a total surprise for all of us, as he was diagnosed with late stages of kidney failure. And as quickly as he was diagnosed, he spiraled further into the disease.  

It feels like he was taken too quickly from our family, even though he was here for nine years, it seems too soon.  We hope he felt how much he was loved every day. xoxo

I love you Gordy.


Valeria’s Top Ten Thursday- Gordon

  1. A few years ago, during Christmastime, he just looks so sweet here.  pb281659.jpg
  2.  When we first brought him home.  2009.IMG_8757
  3. How I will always remember him every day.  Looking out onto the yard to watch all the action.  Here it was fall time.P1040356.JPG
  4. His love for Christmas trees was always hilarious.  It was like he had his own personal forest under there.pc231849.jpg
  5. His big beautiful copper eyes.  They were soulful and perfect.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. The months he spent in the cone of shame..  my poor kitty!  img_0548
  7. He let our youngest daughter dress him up all the time.  I think he secretly liked it..img_0549-1
  8. He also indulged me with these silly cat selfies.  🙂 I will miss how he looked like he rolled his Eyes at me whenever I grabbed my phone for these.  img_0552
  9. Gordon loved putting himself wherever he wasn’t necessarily supposed to be.img_0547
  10.  Last photo from the vet visit.  He was so ill, but when we got there walked out of his carrier with so much curiosity, like a kitten all over again.  😦img_0540


I will always carry a piece of Gordon with me, he was that special.
Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- Self-Care Ideas

Self-care is a deliberate activity, action, or purpose that helps in regulating your mind, feelings and/or body.  Taking time for one’s self is absolutely important. You can change your whole perspective of your feelings, day-to-day situations, your energy, or anything that you need to uplift yourself from.

Below are my top ten favorite ways to self-care.


Valeria’s Top Ten Thursday- Self-Care Ideas

  1. Meditate. If you have never done’s easy!  Find a comfortable spot to sit 10-15 minutes uninterrupted. If you have more time, that is even better. Set your cell’s alarm, place it close to you but not on you.  Close your eyes. Take conscious deep breaths. Listen to your breathing. Relax each part of your body as you feel the ground below you.  If you can, try to just be, without thinking about your day-to-day stresses.

  2. Apply a face mask. All faces can benefit from this!  Try any type that suits your skin type or needs- fibre, clay, gel, charcoal or mud, just follow the instructions.

  3. Listen to a segment of your favorite podcast, or watch it on YouTube.

  4. Take a bath.  Try it with lavender bath salts!

  5. Stretch. Since having my shoulder issues stretching is necessary.  I find I am so much happier on the days I stretch.

  6. Feel the sunshine.  Get outdoors, stand in a window, in the car..anywhere!  I like to  take a few minutes to appreciate the warm feel on my skin.

  7. Make coffee, tea or any drink you enjoy. My favorite pastime is to drink a latte on the couch; no cell phone, no TV, no books, nothing.  Just focusing on the warm joy of the coffee.

  8. Sit quietly.  I like doing this in the grass of my backyard. Looking at the colors and listening to the natural surroundings.

  9. Organize a cabinet or closet.  It’s funny to think that doing the work of organizing actually makes you feel good.  For me, it lifts that back of the mind stress, AND, I believe the concentrated motion of working, like this, helps us steep through situations to clear the mind.

  10. Read a book. Take a moment to read a few pages. Snuggle up on your couch, head to the beach, or, sit in your bed, anywhere you can take the time to dive right in for a few moments.


▶︎ I announced on FB that I am moving my Top Ten Thursday lists to a monthly post.  This will be my last TTT post for March.

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019 -Leaving Cuba

Hello Everyone!

Here we are, our last day in Cuba. Our departure day.

Our flight was scheduled for 5:30PM. Varadero was about a two and a half hour drive from the airport in Havana. We had reserved a vintage taxi to pick us up before leaving for this trip. And, our last driver, Lester, told us at this Varadero drop off that he would be the one picking us up for this trip to the airport.

We all had a restful night’s sleep, and woke up to cheery sunshine glowing into our rooms.  The windows in this casa, did not have glass on them, nor did it have a screen, just shutters to shield the light.  They weren’t closed tight, so you could feel a breeze coming through with the light.

We packed up all of our things, then made our way down to breakfast. Our taxi was going to pick us up by noon for the trek back to the airport, so we had some time here. You have to always factor that a meal is going to take at least an hour and a half, but most likely more. This morning we were greeted by both Iris and Ana.  It was very nice.  We had a similar type of breakfast today.  We were given the same savory mini cakes with butterfly confetti on them, which was special for the girls. The random plate of mayonnaise and queso fresco along with the cakes.  Then a bowl of fruits were served.  My husband was happy to see it was all bananas, as he loves those; he always eats the mini ones we get at home. Next to the fruit bowl was a platter with salads, that were beautiful but tasted odd. A cored pineapple showed up, then a buckwheat pancake was served while an order of eggs was taken with bread.  


We had some time to spare so we took our time eating breakfast.  As we were sitting here the elderly woman who lived in the apartment (as a resident) came by to say hello.  We had talked to her and her husband for a brief second on our first day as they helped me maneuver the outdoor shower for our sandy feet, and, then again we exchanged quick greetings when we were off to the beach yesterday morning.

She only spoke Spanish, but again, with my knowledge of Spanish and fluency in Italian we communicated. Using the offline mobile dictionary was a great help!  Actually, the woman and I ended up having a great compassionate conversation.  She was detailing about growing up in the area. It was pretty difficult, but her family got by. I pieced together a lot of her emotional journey.  She seemed very happy to have my ear for the short moment we talked.  We greeted each other good-bye, then a few minutes later her husband came by to say hello.  He didn’t stop to chitchat, I think he was just being nosey  haha.

We then made our way back up to the room to make sure we packed everything and to wait on our taxi.  With some time to spare my husband and oldest daughter wanted to make one last run to the souvenir market by the beach.  They went to do their thing, and my youngest daughter and I sat on our porch enjoying some last-minute sunshine in the salty air.

Weird.The photo I took below with a dog on the roof.  
The sky looks so grey, but it was NOT a cloudy morning!

Lester arrived right on time. He drove the same blue vintage Plymouth from two days ago for this trip.  We packed up our things, handed the keys to Iris and went off on our way to the airport.  It was bittersweet leaving the peninsula.  I had finally started to enjoy the relaxation that Varadero brought me.  But, we all know, vacation isn’t supposed to last for life.

While driving to the airport, we talked a lot to Lester.  He was such a nice guy.  He told us all about his girlfriend, showing us her photos on his phone of her, and his plans to propose to her some day soon.  He asked us how we met, and how long it took to get married.  He was surprised to hear how young we were when we met, but more so how we had dated for five years before getting married, then waited four years to start a family.  Is that surprising?  hmm..

Before hopping in the car, we had asked Lester if we could make one stop along the way, to he Revolution Square.  We never got to officially see it, or stand on it, so I wanted to go pretty badly.  Lester didn’t give a definitive answer, for timing reasons.  Once we got to the outskirts of Havana, he said there was more than enough time to make a stop to the square.  YES!!

We pulled into the lot adjacent to the square.  It was packed with the coolest vintage cars!!  It is kind of a funny coincidence that the red convertible here below was the very same one we saw on our first day walking in La Habana Vieja!  THE SAME ONE!  It is so beautiful in person I can’t even tell you how much the photo does it zero justice.

We walked over to the square, and it was empty.. just us and another family.  The square faces a lot where we were standing, that was flanked by these enormous buildings that had the infamous metal structure statues of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.  Each structure has a statement signature underneath.  Che’s said,”Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Victory, Always).  Camilo’s said, “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).

After the walk around the Revolution Square, we took off for the airport.  It was just a quick twenty-minute ride through Havana.  Along the ride I had seen a lot of local propaganda on walls and billboards.  Not one Cuban billboard this whole trip dedicated to anything but the socialist agenda.  It was all so fascinating to me.

We greeted Lester with hugs and kisses of good-bye at the airport.  He was such a nice guy.   The airport was a breeze to go through.  We checked in fairly easy.  Went through immigration just as we did when we arrived.  One child per adult with the Immigration Officer. A stamp your passport after a few questions, a snapshot of each traveler, and you are on your way to go through security.  Which in Cuba may be easier than at home.  We got to our gate within a half hour of saying bye to Lester!  We ended up waiting for our departure longer than that.  While waiting, we grabbed a few more bottles of rum for ourselves at duty-free, and, a few bites for the ride home.

We left 85F Havana for 30F Boston!  We got home to find an immense amount of snow on the ground, and a storm on its way.  But you know what?  I actually did not care.  I missed home so much!

My review of our trip.

Never has a place left me with such complexity in my soul.  I walk away from this trip emotional.

The poverty. The social and economic issues and history.  The constant propaganda.  The oppression.  The buildings all in ruins. The trash collection not constant.  Yet, the people were kind.  From the moment we stepped foot into the country to the moment we left we always knew that the kindness from the people would be a constant in our day.   Where we had mostly visited had such immense poverty, Cuba still shined like a diamond. Albeit in the rough, but still shining.

Through its people. 

We started seeing a trend after our first day.  Everyone we met was highly educated, college/university graduates, and they were all proud to tell us that they had free education and free healthcare.  Funny how familiar this sounds as our own country is at odds with those pro and con in this area of politics.  I am not discussing politics, merely stating the obvious.  It’s also interesting to walk around in a city of millions where we never saw one child acting up, and we saw thousands of families on this trip. We saw no parents yelling at their children. Not saying it doesn’t happen, it’s just we never saw it in front of our eyes.   Also, we never saw anyone belligerent in the streets.  No one strung out on drugs. No homeless. Not a person who smelled offensively -dirty or of body odor; everyone was dressed nicely, smelling of detergent.  The houses we could see inside of were neat and clean.  I mean.  Do you guys know how rare this is on that scale?

I guess what I have been saying all along is the reason I am emotional from this visit. The people in Cuba are truly exceptional people.  I am so glad I had this opportunity to see this country.  A country I had always figured would be off-limits to me forever.  I am so glad that I got to see the beautiful sights, historical and special to Cuba, even if at times they were depressing. I feel like this country is on a rebound to being great again.  I hope so too.

I am also so glad to have met Maria and her husband Juan Carlos with their daughter of Vistalmorro.  Ernesto and Lester who drove us around great distances and always had a smile.  Julia and Silvio who own La Rosa de Ortega; with Jose Carlos and the staff. The elderly lady at the school.  The antiques dealers.  The bartender with the glasses at El Floridita.  Our waiter at Varadero60.  Iris and Ana of the Casa Cubana de la Familia, and the elderly couple downstairs. The random guy at the artist market who called me beautiful. Our taxi driver on Valentine’s Day Eve.  The Afro-Cuban artist who walked me personally around her gallery. The waiter from La Fondita Heredia. The group of colorfully dressed women in the park. The multiple taxi drivers in the city who drove us home after a long day.  It is all due to their generosity, kind watchful eyes, soft words and open heart that made me love Cuba.

“Havana, ooh na-na

Half of my heart is in Havana, ooh-na-na (oh, yeah)”

Thank you for reading along!  Hope you all enjoyed my point of view of Cuba.

Posted in My Travels

CUBA 2019- Varadero Beach, our last full day

Hey Everyone,

Ok, well, after all this time, I am finally typing out our last full day on the island of Cuba!  After this is our departure back home.  😦

We woke up to beautiful bright skies on our first morning in Varadero. Our only plan for the day was to hang out at the beach then buy souvenirs! Finally one day of not running around.

We went down to breakfast to eat at 9AM. They had a table set up for us under a canopy out back attached to a garage. The garage was set up as a kitchen and the windows facing our table housed aquariums with fish swimming.  On this day we were greeted by another woman, Ana, who works with Iris managing the house. She was in charge of cooking us breakfast.

The breakfast of this casa was served in courses just like the previous casa. We started off with coffee, hot milk and juice. JUICE.  This casa offered orange juice.  Also, I asked for an extra-large bottle of water (to take to the beach).  The best part of a casa particular is that the people running the breakfasts would cook everything from scratch.  It was pretty amazing.  We were served hot homemade savory mini muffins sprinkled with sesame to start. They were really good! But Ana also put out a dish of mayonnaise with queso fresco, we were not sure why.  Then we were served fruit; there was a fully cored pineapple, which was just ok, and a platter of local fruit, which was not so good.  Even at this location, hours away from Havana, the local fruits tasted strange.  We followed this with an order of eggs and toast.  Following the eggs was a buckwheat pancake drizzled with local honey.  The girls really enjoyed that.  Then came a plate of bananas covered in chocolate with sprinkles special for the kids.  It all ended with individual jello molded in different shapes.  You can’t make it out in the photo below, but the adults dish of jello had a flower shape on it, but our girls had Minnie Mouse!  Is this not an insane amount of food?

After this two and a half hour breakfast, we got into our swimsuits as quick as possible and made a mad dash for the beach.   The beach, again, did not disappoint.

We got to the beach right before noon to find the ocean much smoother, and the waves coming to surf at a normal pace.  The water was even more crystal clear than yesterday, didn’t think that could be possible.  Once we found a spot, we were greeted by a very young man dressed in an official lifeguard scuba suit.  He introduced himself as Martinez.  He was a jack of all trades hired to guard the beach during peak hours, and, on the side for extra money, he offered rental umbrellas to beachgoers and run for drinks.

Then a cute group of girls set up camp under an umbrella they rented from Martinez at the edge of the beach, but sat directly on the sand right next to us. No towels, just a bluetooth speaker. There was a whole beach around us, but they set up five feet away.   Almost right away Martinez walked over with a drink delivery for the girls.  We were impressed, not about the girls, but Martinez’s drink caddy!  He was able to deliver glasses on the beach!

The girls started playing Spanish pop songs and fluttered around us taking selfies.  I offered to take a group shot of them.  They were so happy, and already tipsy somehow!  They started to get personal real fast after that picture.  They understood I spoke English, so they just started spewing information at me.  Within a few seconds I learned that they were two sisters with a best friend hanging in Varadero for a day trip to the beach. They were on vacation from Mexico, though one of the girls recently moved to Texas to marry.  They jumped right into asking me how old I was, what state I lived in, who I was with, why I was in Cuba, how long I was married, and what I did for a job.  It was like they were on speed with how fast these questions came out.  I am pretty stoked though, they thought I was 33yo..jussayin I am 42! 🙂

I still may have it.. whatever it is… eh whatevz.

Then around 2PM after sweating in the sunshine, I got antsy for a drink. My husband did too.  He offered to run for drinks since the guy was busy, which was awesome. He surprised me with huge mojitos for us and sodas for our girls. They didn’t come in glass cups, but they were pretty frickin’ amazing nonetheless.  The rum in Cuba is truly special.  After we had our drinks, which went down waYYyy too easily, we got in the water for a little fun with the kids.  While in the water we could see humongous fish swimming by, super cool!  The vistas of the water in the distance felt like they could go on forever.  The crystal clear aqua-colored water was dreamy.  After a few minutes, I decided it was time to get back to the towels, I felt the mojito catching up.

My husband then came back to the towels, and the girls near us were now pretty drunk.  Martinez dropped off another round of drinks, and headed over to us, clearly making eye signals like these women were a handful.  We talked to him for about twenty minutes about the job, as his friend left the girls behind him.  He told us how he took his job hyper seriously, and how he had a family to take care of.  The girls were behind him calling him over again.  Before he left he asked us if we wanted another drink, which we said yes to!  We ordered another round of mojitos and virgin pina coladas for our girls, and he happily ran to go get them.

He came back with our drinks a few minutes later in glass cups in his cool caddy!  Yes, I am super happy to have glass cups on a beach!  It does make a big difference.  He let us hold on to the caddy to keep all the cups together and out of the sand, which was super nice.

The stylish bubbly girls on the beach all of a sudden turned into belligerent drunk girls. Martinez was called over to them once again to help them get a taxi.  They shouted their goodbyes to me as I made sure they grabbed their things. They walked along to the exit with Martinez ahead. The walk for them up the beach was sad, however. One of the girls just kept falling down.  Face first. In the sand.  And struggled to get up each time.  It sounds funny, but it was just sad.  Martinez shuffled them along into a taxi.  And came over to us to apologize and assure us they should be safe.  I hope they got to Havana all right.

After the women left we basically had the beach to ourselves.  The tides don’t shift much on this beach so we dragged our towels closer to the girls playing in the sand.  My husband started chasing the girls then jumped in the water with them. Then I.. guess what?  I PASSED OUT!  I am not sure how long I fell asleep for but I woke myself up with a snore.  Yes, I did!  🙂  And it felt so good!

We hung out on the beach until the sun was starting coming down. We all started to become hungry and decided it was the right time to go freshen up for dinner.   On our walk back to the house, we saw the most spectacular start to a sunset we had ever seen.  The colors in the sky were neon pink, yellow and blue, just spectacularly glowing.   It lasted so long, as it was still setting when we went out for dinner.

We walked the main street of Varadero for a while trying to decide where we were going to eat.  We had planned to go to two places, both were packed with long waits; one place had a two-hour wait!  Luckily, we had the offline mobile map that had listings of all the restaurants in the area.   We looked up a few spots to check out.  We walked by a lot of restaurants along the boulevard that were not on the map though.  But unluckily, every spot we wanted to check out was booked solid.  So we stopped in to a place we walked by that looked nice, and had seating, La Vicaria.  It ended up being a super fun place and the food was so good!!

We started off with daiquiris and pina coladas, of course.  The restaurant was open air under a thatched cabana. Which made it interesting as while seated we saw chickens and cats walking along the restaurant.  My kids enjoyed that part.  We got fried and grilled chicken platters, a grilled fish plate and a pork tips plate, and, a side of fries because my kids saw them on the menu and freaked out.  It was all really good.  We ended up staying there enjoying our dinner for about two hours or so.  Then we took a nice walk back to our casa particular, but not before buying some rum.. and soap!  The house we were in had this deliciously scented banana soap in the bathrooms that I saw in the pharmacy and had to have!  Can’t wait to use it!

My review of the day.

There really was no profound introspection during this day at the beach.  I had a lot of fun in the sun, while catching the show that was the gaggle of girls on vacation.

Next Cuba post will be our last day– departing Cuba, but first we check out a few sights.


Posted in Random Stuff

CUBA 2019- Hemingway House and Varadero

SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaSELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_659a1678-f381-4d9d-858f-d5380c9c7c70SELRES_84962270-c50c-402a-a416-6f68d561dfd0SELRES_87e291db-d27c-4a01-99d4-5cbcc2b777a3SELRES_5de68f1d-210b-4da2-999f-c2a2ba0030aaWhat’s happening, everyone!?!?

Here we are on our sixth day in Cuba.  It was VALentine’s Day, and it turned out to be a pretty great one! Especially compared to the day before.  For starters, the rain stopped. Yes! Then we left the bustling city of Havana, in our third reserved classic car, for the laid back beach of Varadero. We made a few fantastic stops along the way and ended the day eating at a kickass restaurant.

Before I go onto journaling my day, quickly let me point out, Valentine’s Day in Cuba is a big deal.  I mean, BIG deal!  They really go all out for the day.  Here I thought I was would be the love-day-centric one with dressing cute and having the kids wearing springy heart headbands, but everywhere we went, places were themed, decorated to the nines.  It was like a magical place for me.  haha (Get it? nudge Cuz I love all holidays? nudge nudge..)

Overnight, the storm came back.  The sounds of the pouring rain and wind were horrendous, and we were so thankful our children slept through the whole thing. Waking up on this morning, I noticed before jumping out of bed, that a lot of birds were singing and chirping from the trees below our room. Something we hadn’t heard on this trip yet. The skies still looked grey when I peaked to check, but also seemed like the clouds could break to sunshine.  Just couldn’t tell.

Secretly the night before bed, I had set up a surprise in the corner of the kitchen by the terrarium for the girls. Nothing crazy;  silly cards, themed candies and a few fun toys.  When I walked from the bedroom through the kitchen, I noticed that they had left cards there for me and my husband, and each other, too! Those rascals got me!! 

As we got to the patio for breakfast, we were surprised by the staff, too. They had set a table for us with a special Valentine’s Day chocolate treat at each place setting. Gee, I wonder how long they waited for us to come down!?  Right when we got coffee, we had the girls exchange cards and open gifts.

Ok, onto breakfast.  Our last breakfast at this casa particular.  Which looking back, was such a beautiful, special place. We absolutely enjoyed this location with its people and beautiful landscape. I hope if we ever go back to Cuba we start our trip off right from this casa particular!

I laughed when we got coffee because what showed up…that darn bowl of fruit salad!  haha My husband didn’t have a chance to say we wouldn’t be needing it on this morning.  So, he did eat some, I don’t know how, but I watched him do it!!  (If you have no clue why I am laughing, it’s because during this trip we found the fruit to be strange in texture and flavor, just very undesirable.)

With the sun struggling to appear, our car showed up right on time at 10AM. It was a 1949 blue Plymouth sedan!  The tour guide who picked us up was Lester, the owner and best friend of the driver who took us to Viñales a few days before. Lester was a very young and pleasant man.   We packed up the car with every bag and person then headed on our way.  The drive to Varadero is about two and a half hours long. We had planned two stops beforehand, the Museo Ernest Hemingway  (Ernest Hemingway’s House now a museum), which was 20 minutes away from the casa, and then the Bacunayagya Bridge lookout for pina coladas, which was an hour and a half away from the museum.

For some reason Lester, his voice and demeanor, reminded me of the comedian/actor/podcaster Bryan Callen.  If you don’t know who Bryan Callen is.. shame on you, and I highly recommend The Fighter and The Kid podcast.

Lester started driving us in a totally different direction through Havana. He told us to get to Hemingway’s House, our first stop, he had to take us through a different ward, which is a neighborhood that not many tourists go through.  This neighborhood was totally different on every level from where we had been before on this trip.  The serious economic problems were glaring.  I had alluded to this previously in my Cuba posts, but driving through this neighborhood it was raw. In your face. There were no impressive embassies, no large distinguished hotels, no crystal ocean views, no historical monuments, and definitely, no vividly bright buildings; here had none of that.

Side note:  This is what I battled with emotionally through this trip.  It is a beautiful country with a lot of history and culture. So much of its modern-day culture, however, is draped in its socialism, which lends to this devastating way of life and poverty peppered throughout.  We would see poor living conditions a lot, not to this extreme as we did here, but every night I was left feeling sad.  Wanting to give everyone I saw whatever I had to offer. The people we were meeting were so wonderful and generous, even if they were living in what we know as an oppressed society.  Which seems to be on some uprising, or at least I hope it is.  It really is a complicated country. It’s hard to explain to people that it’s beautiful, with its rich history, without telling them of this heartache.  I mean, I am sure people can turn a blind eye, it’s just I don’t know they can.

This neighborhood spilled into another and then into the San Francisco de Paula ward.  This is where Hemingway’s house/museum is found. It is definitely a different vibe from the streets we just traveled through.  We were now on a wider boulevard with large homes, and green trees tucked perfectly around. Such a shock from the one we just drove through.   We were just observing a man wheeling cakes through black exhaust to sell by the train tracks, then we were driving up this amazing wooded driveway to a villa. 

Hemingway’s house lays upon serene wooded and hilly grounds, with a vista of Havana from the back patio of the house.  It is just beautiful. My gosh.  Though the house is not open to visitors to walk through the inside, it is completely open for viewing from the outside through doorways and windows. This goes for the three-story look-out building adjacent to the house, as well.  Everything is preserved, and staged, as he had it while he was alive. While you poke your head into a living room, or a bedroom, or even into his bathroom, you can’t help but want to jump in there to play house with all of his belongings.

Walking the paths of the gardens was peaceful.  We went down the main path towards the recreation area; there was a swimming pool, cock-fighting ring and his boat. What an amazing sight!  First you come across the pool to the left. It was empty, but all I could think of was the blue glistening water on a sunny day. And, Ava Gardner skinny dipping and how I would totally be there doing that same thing!  The cabanas that flank the back of the pool are decorated with poster sized photos of Hemingway with his famous friends. Just thinking of all the people who went through that space is dizzying; must have been an amazing sight!

Right past the pool is the burial spot of his favorite cats.  They were in front of his boat; they look as if they are guarding it!  His fishing boat, recently restored, is not accessible by guests, as it’s grounded in the tennis courts space. I spent a long time looking at this boat.   This boat saw a lot of action in the water with Hemingway. He invited notable guests on that boat.  He caught record-breaking sized fish. He made a few epic water trips like those we read about to Bimini. Also, he used this boat to search for German U-Boats during WWII and on science expeditions off the coast of Cuba!  How cool, right? Also, two of his books were influenced by the time he spent on this fishing boat, The Old Man and the Sea, and, Islands in the Stream.  So much history.  If that boat could talk, it would probably have some insane stories!

We left the Hemingway House with the sun still struggling to come out. It did peep out a few times. Ahead of us was another hour or so of driving before our next stop. We were headed for a little stretch and drink at the Bacunayagya overlook.  This overlook is in the town of Bacunayagya and faces a valley where the highest bridge in all of Cuba is located. The Bacunayagua Bridge is considered a modern Cuban engineering marvel.  It is quite impressive, and the view from the overlook was magnificent of the valley.

The overlook had an outdoor cocktail bar. This place was a lot of fun; a great place to check out views holding a pina colada. An interesting little fact about cocktail bars like this is Cuba is that they make the drink virgin, then you put the alcohol in the drink.  So, we had a lot of fun making questioning faces with the bartender pouring lots of rum into our drinks. 

We were feeling pretty happy leaving there, to say the least.  🙂

After leaving the bridge, which we were able to drive over, we drove along the coast line of Cuba.  Wow, it was beautiful.  The colors of blue and aqua beaming from the water looked like a postcard. It was fascinating to see how not the Cuban government nor its people capitalized on the spaces along the water. I mean, we drove for a good hour along the water without any homes or businesses, not that they were needed.  That isn’t what I am inferring, but all I could wonder was how prime real estate could exist without any need for it.  Back in the States this space would be eaten up!  (I hope for Cuba’s sake no one does overbuild and ruin the coast.)

We made it to Varadero!  Yes!  The skies were still a little grey.  No!

Varadero is known as a beach resort town.  This town is located on the Hicacos peninsula, which lends to great surrounding views of the Atlantic Ocean.  One side of the peninsula is beach front, the other side is a coastal highway.  The beach is about 13 miles long, with government-run resorts along a small stretch of beach. (We never walked to that part.)  As colorful homes are conveniently located along tightly nestled grid alleyways, roughly a block away from the beach entrances. Between the homes and the beach front are the restaurants and souvenir shops.  There are no boardwalks lined with stuff, this is a natural sight where the streets make their way to the sandy edges of the beach paths with small fences and trees.  Walking the paths towards the beach is a HUGE treat, visually.

We were reminded along the drive by Lester that the Cuban government did not allow its citizens to vacation in Varadero until a few years ago.  We learned this information before arriving in Cuba.  The boom for its privately owned industry is very recent, open a handful of years.  Which is something we thought about throughout our trip.  I can’t imagine my government telling me that I couldn’t vacation with tourists in my own country.  But that is what they did, and that is how they lived.  

We arrived to our casa particular, the Casa de la Familia Cubana, at 2PM.  We were greeted by Iris, one of the staff helping the owners of the house. Iris took us on a great tour of the house, showing us all the ins and outs, and details for breakfast. We had a lot of space.  Two bedrooms equipped with AC and fans.  Our bedroom had a mini fridge, which was stocked with waters and beers. We had two full bathrooms, which was a treat!  A kitchen with dining area that had access to the roof deck and to the patio where they served breakfast every morning.

Iris was a very sweet woman, but spoke no English.  Which was fine with me!  haha

After our walk through of the house, we ran to get into our bathing suits because you know what came out when we got to the house?  THE SUN!!!  Seriously, it was like a gift from the universe.  We drove over the town border, onto the peninsula, then the skies cleared up and the sun just shone with all its might.  I was beyond happy to see the sun.

We headed straight for the beach with towels Iris handed us and the water from the fridge.  I stashed a few snack bars in the bags too.  Oh I forgot to mention, that we had taken the rice and plantains from dinner the night before to have for lunch today.  Which we scarfed down before the beach.  I totally forgot.

This is all we had planned for the day, get to Varadero, sit on the beach then eat dinner somewhere nice!

The beach was literally a five minute walk away from our casa.  We crossed one major street, then took a right down another toward the entrance of the beach.  Along the walk there were restaurants and breweries, other casa particular, and public bathrooms lined up.  The walk onto the beach transported you to a more private space.  The sands were cool to the touch of your feet, even in the sunshine, and the turquoise waves were brilliantly crashing.

There were not many people on the beach, as we were warned not a lot of people would be.  It’s Cuba’s Winter season, so not many locals will go, which was ok by us!   The storm from the days prior really shook up the ocean, bringing us these crazy waves.  I have never seen such clear blue water anywhere else as I have in Cuba.  The colors made my eyes sparkle and my heart flutter.

The sun started to set, but we had to run to get ready for our reservations.  We were so excited to go out tonight! Not just that we were all starving, haha. We got to the house to find the view of the sun set from our front door.  We got ready as fast as we could because we were running behind, and still needed to flag down a car to get us to the restaurant.

We flagged down a watermelon colored vintage Pontiac.  This car was cool!  The girls loved it because, well, watermelon colored and a convertible! And my husband loved it because the driver of the car blared Cuban music along the drive, and would randomly honk his horn to pedestrians on the side-walk.  The horn sound was whistling, you know, that sexy whistle. If you play the video below, you can hear it in the background of the song. That ten minute ride to the restaurant was super funny, and set a tone for the night.

The car dropped us off, with the music blaring, right out front of the restaurant that was booming with people! The entrance to the restaurant was decorated fully in red balloons with a sign above that read ‘love you forever’ with hearts. We walked up to the desk to check in with the woman.  She greeted us by handing a Valentine’s Day themed cocktail to each adult, a caipiroska, and a virgin drink of the same to each child. We were then seated at a table outside which was perfect because the weather was warm and there was a light breeze. The table was set in red with flowers in the middle and a box of candies for the girls.

We had an exceptional waiter.  He explained that they had a prefix menu for Valentine’s Day along with their regular menu… and what a menu they had! I decided to get the Valentine’s Day prefix. My husband opted for the seafood platter as the girls decided to get a risotto dish, which was black squid ink with seared beef, and a pasta dish, which was with a meat sauce, to share.

Soon served was the appetizer to my meal. It was a play on sushi; three large rolls on a plate neatly.  One was a twirl of squid ink risotto with a black salmon center.  The next was a red wine tinted risotto with Serano ham. And the third was a traditional white risotto with shrimp. We enjoyed that dish so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to take a picture; and I kick myself every day because it was so beautiful to look at! We grabbed another round of drinks, and then the mushroom cream soup with balsamic vinegar reduction was served. This soup was by far the best soup I’ve ever eaten in my life! And I’m not exaggerating. The soup was that good. The consistency, the finesse, it was all beautiful. My family took a bite but let me eat the majority of it..which I gladly did!  haha   Then everyone’s main dishes arrived.  We tasted the pasta and risotto dishes, which were pretty great.  My husband’s seafood platter was so good, but my dish really out shined them all. I had the paired pork chop and steak with a port wine salsa. The food on my plate was definitely cooked with love. Even the side of potatoes, that seem to be au gratin, were some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

All while we were there, about 3 hours, in the background was a band playing at the end of the enclosed patio.  It was a guitar duo, playing classical versions of modern songs.  No singing, just guitar.  They were amazing. This restaurant just had such a great vibe.

What a joy of a meal. A great way to end a day.



My review of the day.

I was so grateful when the sun finally showed itself as we got to Varadero.  This was the first day of our trip that I felt like I was on vacation.  We got to see some sights, but knowing where we were headed, to the beach, my thoughts didn’t seem so heavy on my shoulders.  Like I was letting go of thoughts of back home and focusing on …nothing, just me and relaxing.  It was a day my family needed.

And I just have that to say in my review today.  🙂


Next Cuba post will be Days 7 – hanging out in Varadero.


Posted in Random Stuff

Top Ten Thursday- more random things to know about Valeria

  1. I…trained our cat, Gordon Ramsey, to box. He knows when I ask him to ‘jump jump’ on the back of the couch in the front room that it’s go time. He is real good at it! He also plays hide-n-seek and tag.  He is that smart!!  Also, he is named after the chef but his last name is spelled differently as my cat is not a jerk.

  2. I…cannot believe my 13-year-old has a frickin’ boyfriend. By all means, I trust her and they are naive kids, more into the label of boyfriend/girlfriend as they find everything, like holding hands, to be awkward. Let’s hope everything is awkward forever. LOL. Bahhhh. Ok this isn’t about me, but it’s been on my mind for two weeks.

  3. I…will reference Seinfeld at least three times a day. *at least. A few weeks ago the damnedest trend started.. I met people who HAVE NEVER seen Seinfeld. 😮

  4. I…cook. It’s one of my strongest talents. I feel at most myself while cooking. On average, I cook at home 6 days a week. From the simple to complex, using whole ingredients, and I enjoy every minute.

  5. I…am utterly obsessed with Halloween. Anxiety kicks in if I don’t have a Halloween costume planned before Spring.  I am torn choosing between two right now.  I have some time.

  6. I…am currently on a baking mission. I cook but baking is different. So I decided a week ago to teach myself to bake from scratch. I want to be that person who whips up yummy treats all the time easily; and with my youngest daughter wanting to learn, I have to!!

  7. I…like giving advice. Ask me anything!

  8. I…was disappointed for weeks with my DNA test results until my husband convinced me how amazing they actually were. The results seemed lame to me because I look like a mashup of many nationalities. Guess what? I’m 96% Italian, from Sicily. Ha! The rest Greek.

  9. I…am actually more of an introvert than extrovert. Whenever I tell people this they don’t believe me, but it’s true!

  10. I…, since I was a kid, have been picking out which actor or actress would play my family and friends in my life movie.  I, especially, love doing this when I meet someone new. The weirdest part of this is … well, I have never chosen anyone to play me!  And yes, if we are friends irl, I have chosen someone to play YOU!  haha