Cuba – A Remedy for the Winter Blues

With winter in full swing, wind howling and the first serious cold snap so far.   We know there is some place you would rather be. Somewhere with sun, sea and sand.  May we suggest:


Cuba SiCuba has been very good to Canadians, providing amazing  holidays  for every budget, a place in the sun.  Basic and beautiful. But times  are changing fast in Cuba, those ’56 Chevy’s may be seeing their last hoorah. Then again, nothing is for sure in Cuba. According to the  most recent Lonely Planet Guide on Cuba, there are still 35,000 pre-1959 American cars in the country.

Over the years, I have seen Cuba, the grand old lady of the Caribbean, forced into iconic 50’s Shabbiness via:  politics, lack of foreign exchange and embargos, thrive as Canadian and European hotels change its coastal landscape.

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Cuba, is how you say  ” sympatico”.  If you want to find a spot like Hemingway did, to drink hard and be creative, you can.  If you want to have fun in the sun, on an all-inclusive budget holiday, you can.  If you want to explore the flora and fauna of the Sierra Maestra  mountains, you can do that too.

The people, are descendants  of European and Africans brought together under a former slave economy.  With a  history of insurrection and resurrection, Cubans now work together for the same goal that we all do – economic empowerment.  You will find that the hotel employees are invariably teachers, lawyers or other professionals who view employment in tourism as the most financially  viable option.

Viva Tourism

For a quick,  economical (cheap) holiday, you can’t beat Cuba.  The food does get a bad rap but remember, the country’s  resources are still limited and Cubans would be horrified to know how much food we waste in North America.  Apart from the all you can eat on most budget holidays, there is all you can drink, a very popular  aspect of a Cuban holiday.  I am always leery of the swim up bars where people never seem to leave their spots, and next thing you know the pool is closed.  Just an observation.  Cuba, July 15-22 ,2013 005


The party place, Canadians invariably run into someone from home on this archipelago, because if you are not in Florida in January, you are in Varadero. There are over 50 hotels here and some of the best beaches in the country.  Cubans love to party,  after all this is the country that gave birth to: the salsa, mambo, and rumba. Try to visit the country when there is a major festival, it is pure carnival.



Holguin province was my first experience of Cuba, back in 90’s when Cuba was testing the waters of  commercial tourism with the help of Spanish and Canadian investors. The people were kind and warm, it was a great introduction to the country. Guardalavaca, the resort area just northeast of Holguin has blossomed and  now has some of the swankiest hotels in the country. Beaches, coral reefs and  lush green carpeted hills. Visit the Museo Chorro de Maita an archaeological site of the long gone indigenous people, the Taino.



This province has some fabulous spots, not the least of which is Playa Santa Lucia,  and a flamingo nesting area, Refugio de Fauna Slivestre Rio Maximo.  This area is a local holiday spot and a must for scuba divers.  Resorts here are popular with  the locals, Columbians and Canadians.  While staying at a hotel Cuba, July 15-22 ,2013 114here I remember speaking with a Cuban guest.  She told me her trip was a present from El Presidente.  Lost in translation, it seems it was an incentive reward.  I wish I could get one from El Prime Minister.


Santiago de Cuba 

Everything comes together here.  Although the area is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. A local guide explained that  Santiago de Cuba, because of its location is usually sheltered from the worst of any hurricane that comes through.  This time that didn’t happen, and it ripped through city and resorts in the area leaving devastation.  Ever resourceful, the Cubans are rebuilding and tourism is returning to normal in the area.  Things to do here include:  a visit to El Moncada,  the site of Fidel Castro’s first insurrection in 1953.  Cycle along  the coast road to El Uvero.  Check out the city itself,  very vibrant and bustling, don’t be surprised if you are offered guide services on the fly in heart of the city.  Use your best judgment and hold your valuables close.

 There you have it fellow Empty Besters, travel tips to wash away the winter blues.  Book it!



Quick Guide to Post-Secondary Education Planning for Parents and Students

It Is Never To Early to Plan For Post Secondary Education


It is that time of year when applications for post-secondary education are being processed, or still being completed by students.  Assisting our children to become independent and exit the home in the best way possible is the goal.

One of the things my parents taught me is that post-secondary education is and continues to be a  great socio-economic equalizer.  It does not matter if you are from humble origins or the offspring of the captains of industry, if you have an education and the drive,  you can fulfil your destiny.  Your upward mobility is only limited by your self-imposed constraints.

When Planning Post Secondary Options Choose  Carefully

Parents, know that your child will make post-secondary choices based on one or more of the… Click To Tweet

  • Future career choice
  • Current school courses
  • Finances
  • Distance from home
  • Friends
  • Fun/Party School


University or college ?  That is the question. The answer is whatever is in the best interest of your child. For the parent/student, education will be the most expensive purchase after or before the house. It’s no wonder this is the generation that has the highest debt load ever in the history of Canada. Gone are the days when you could work through the summer and cover most of the cost of your next term.  Many students are not getting those jobs and the pay for those that do barely covers current costs.

The McLean’s University Rankings, is Canada’s go to guide for lists and descriptions of Canada’s  university campuses.  Colleges and Trades are gaining popularity,  especially with a decline in qualified trade’s people. If you live in Ontario, there is also: eInfo, a guide to Ontario’s universities and where they are located for high school students at


Action Plan for Long Term Post Secondary

Students, a plan of action is important not just for this particular exercise but for life in general, having a general guideline will be helpful and enable you to see the pros and cons.  Not just for the first year, but for the duration of your studies and beyond. The plans should include: the advantages and disadvantages of  going to a particular school and taking the chosen subjects.

What do you need to go into a particular program?  Are your grades competitive?  If not, can you bring them up in time.

Have a plan B

Work for a year to gain some financial footing and work experience. Travel for a year. Some students feel that they need a gap year for whatever reason.


If an undergrad or gap year abroad is viable option there is a great resource that makes the tour every year.  Study and Go Abroad Fairs will be coming to a city near you.  Go online and to find the dates. 

The most popular reason for studying aboard is a scholarship. Click To Tweet

It is a good idea to be very clear about what the scholarship covers and what conditions need to be maintained for it to be continued. This is particularly important with sports scholarships.  Sports teams at the post-secondary level are very results oriented, this is often a pressure point for young students. You would not want your offspring stranded in foreign regions.



  • How much will post secondary it cost?
  • Are scholarships available
  • Student Loans
  • Provincial/ Banks
  • Parental contribution



Take the tours offered by the schools. Brochures are glossy and the script is appealing, but there is nothing like walking through the Ivy yourself.

Talk to people who have been there.  First hand experience from a few former or current students will give you a real picture of campus life.

Call potential departments, don’t be shy.  The student guidance office will be happy to put in touch.  Scholars are very passionate about their departments.

There you have it.  All that is left for you to do is to:

1. Apply

2. Accept

3. Deliver the grades

4. Go

If you have found: Quick Guide to Post-Secondary Education Planning for Parents and Students  helpful, or want to share your experience of this process.  Send me an email via comments.


Guide Contributors:

Bambi – Our millennial student adviser.

The Beaver – Educator, Urban Historian and Empty nester.



Service Canada provides information on all types of schools located across Canada.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum provides detailed information and links for those interested in apprenticeship training in Canada.

The VECTOR website provides videos and information on approximately 185 occupations in Canada:

MONEY AND YOUTH is a book published by The Canadian Foundation for Economic Education, a resource aimed at youth 14 and older.  Free but there may be costs for postage and handling.


10 Best Invest in Yourself Strategies For Life in the Empty Nest

Do you find yourself wondering what to do in the Empty Nest?

It is time to invest in yourself if you are new to life in the Empty Nest.  If your  child recently left home enjoy the memories, shed a tear.  Now take a deep breath, and draw on the strength that you used to bring up the children you miss. Now is the time to invest in in yourself.

You have come to the right place if you are looking for strategies to help you stop moping around in the empty nest.

Don’t worry about the offspring, they are studying (not), in the quiet (hardly), non-partying college residences (sirens), for which you pay so much money. As long as no one calls and asks you to pick them up and take them home.  They are okay.

Know how lucky you have been to have raised your beautiful children.  The fact that they are around and you can look forward to sharing their transitions is something to cherish.

This is a perfect time to consider making a plan of action to get the very best out of the empty nest.  The plan does not have to be written in stone, in fact, it is better if it is flexible as this allows for adjustments as circumstances change.

Time to focus on you

Here are some strategies to Help You invest in you the Empty Nest   in no particular order:

I1. Be Positive – A positive attitude opens up the possibilities to everything else.  Life is beautiful.  You can’t control everything, but you can prepare and take charge of your life.  Make it the best for you.

2. Decorate – This can be very therapeutic. Your living space is a constant reminder of things past, and present.  Rearrange your environment, be it Feng Shui, or just moving a sofa. Fix things you had put off.  As for the children’s room, decide if you want keep a shrine or make a spare room. Be creative. Making changes in your living space will create transition portal.

3. Dance – I highly recommend this one. Music and movement provide energy to the soul.  I love to dance.  Salsa is crazy fast. Tango is good at any age.  Belly dance is a lot harder that it looks, move over Shakira.  This is always a fun way to keep fit, get active and make new friends.

4. Read – Self-help, novels, whatever lifts your spirits.  Join a local book club.  Download free books on line. Libraries are also great sources of information on local events.  Catch up on all the wonderful new novels you have heard about, but never had time to read.

5. Learn – Try the new technology, it facilitates communication with the youngsters and  keeps you current on many topics. Breaking news stories are usually shared on social media first. Empty besters covers a wide age group, and depending on your exposure to new digital technology, you may want to update your knowledge. Get a dictionary for those short forms they use nowadays.

Take Courses – Local continuing education courses are available in most communities. There are also free, non credit online university courses, from some of the best Universities in the world available. Imagine you can now share the courses of Harvard and Yale.

Learn a new language –  This can be challenging and fun.  If you plan to travel, not only will you find it useful to speak a little of the language, locals usually appreciate the fact that you make an effort. A second or third language is  also a good exercise strategy for the brain.

7. Travel – Make a list of places to visit and things to see.  Travel does not have to be far or expensive. Now you will find it a lot cheaper without children in tow.  See local spots first and work your way out to more exotic locales.  I will discuss ways to travel for every budget.

8. Discover you – Who are you now that you are no longer  the chauffeur, the chief cook and bottle washer, or  laundry supervisor? Reinvent yourself or return to the before children you.

9. Volunteer –  A very special option that gives you an opportunity to extend yourself and be part of something you truly enjoy and for which you have a passion: be it in the arts, a social cause, serving in soup kitchen, or helping to save animals  It is all valuable and rewarding.

10. Laugh – Laugh a little, laugh a lot, as long as you laugh. Find some humour. Remember what made you laugh until your sides hurt and the tears rolled down your cheeks.

If you do some, or all of the above: Pamper –Yourself  be it a day at the Spa, a special treat, a concert, or just resting and doing absolutely nothing.  Be good to you. You deserve it.


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