Why I Love Every Single one of the 212 Pounds that I Gained

I’ve posted many a caption on privileging inner beauty.

And, yet, I too, am afraid of being judged by the way I look, rather than the person I am. During my pregnancy, this was especially true. Because, for the first time in my life, I was (and still am) overweight.

At my heaviest, in my third trimester, I pushed past 200 lbs. Often, strangers commented on my HUGE belly. I was told over and over that I MUST be carrying twins and that my baby HAD to be over 10lbs. My self-worth hit an all-time low. I was so insecure about my size that I would avoid sharing my due date. If did disclose it, the responses became all-too-familiar: “Oh wow! You look MUCH further along.” “Only 5 months!” “You look ready to POP!!” “Man, are you sure you aren’t having twins?” Each casual comment led me under the covers with any food that came with dip.

The woman that used to saunter on any dance floor in booty shorts was fading. I was still wearing the red lipstick but I’d lost the sassy hair flip and the bop in my step.

In the last three weeks of my pregnancy, my OB cautioned against further weight gain. THE LAST WEEKS OF MY PREGNANCY. The time that most healthy women gain a pound a week. My OB was lovely, but between the chronic ache in my hips and my swollen sumo-sized feet, I had little else to look forward to besides cake. How was I going to stop gaining weight?

 

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Me, on the day I went into labor.

 

My insecurities paralyzed me. The worse I felt about myself, the harder it was to lose weight. Plus, pretty much anything that wasn’t fried or smothered in mozzarella made me run to the nearest bathroom.

And, I was PREGNANT. But, this didn’t stop strangers from giving me unsolicited dietary advice or encouraging exercise or flat-out telling me that I looked HUGE.

Here’s where, if I had the time, I’d cue quotes from feminist scholars much much more knowledgeable than I, for their insights into the social control of the female body and the impact on mothers.  But alas, my baby won’t sleep long enough for research, so I’m just going to tell you how it feels to be treated like your body is more important than your mind, your heart, or your spirit.

It fucking sucks.

After the birth of my son, I threw myself into weight loss. I committed to working out 4 days a week and I actually followed through. I went to yoga classes; drank more water; ate a hella lot of vegetables; went to more yoga classes; jogged; did squats and so on and so on.

 

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4 Weeks Postpartum

 

Today, it’s 7 and a half months later (which shocks the hell out of me) and due to my consistent efforts, I’ve lost 54 lbs.

I weigh 158 lbs. These pictures are shot with unflattering light, sans filter, and without stylish clothes, and clever angles. But, I’m proud to share them, nonetheless.

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Today.

 

Because these pictures are not just Before pictures. They are also After pictures.

They are After I grew a living being inside my very vulnerable, very beloved, and very scared body.

They are After I labored for fifteen hours and pushed a perfect 6lbs and 15oz baby boy outside of my uterus. (No, he wasn’t 10 lbs. Yes, he was the greatest gift I’ve ever received.)

 

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My Zekaya. God, he’s beautiful.

I refuse to be ashamed of my weight. I refuse to be uncomfortable with the pouch that used to hold my son or the extra rolls that stretch out my tattoo. I refuse to do anything but love my body for its strength, for its health, for its gorgeous cocoa butter scent, for its ability to nourish my son, and for its boundless capacity to love and give to others.

Still, I want to be physically stronger. I want to leap on beds with my son. I want to sprint across the soccer field with him lagging behind.

I know I’m not the best version of myself today and I believe that that assessment is an incredibly personal one.

So, I’m going to work even harder. I’m going to hit the gym 6 times a week. I may or may not forego a cupcake or two. I’m going to squat deeper while holding my now 16 lb son, and I’m going to run longer and faster than any other time in my life.

And, I’m going to invite you along for the journey.

I’m going to do these things out of a deep love for my spirit, heart, mind, and yes, my bodyexactly as it is now, for it carried life’s most precious gift – which is, undeniably, at least a thousand cupcakes, and (of course, also, my Zekaya) because what is life without tiny cakes?

AND for my future body that I will love equally as much, for having carried me through the next three months of sleepless nights, frenzied Zumba mornings, lunges with a squirming baby, and oh-so-many lazy snuggles.

I welcome your encouragement and support for the next 12 weeks, as I chase the kind of body with energy for five rounds of tag, dozens of games of hide-and-go-seek, and an unfiltered love for all things covered in frosting.

Here we go.

 

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          Try to stop me. I dare you. (Also shot in the last month but WITH the clever angles & flattering light)              

 

Fearlessly Yours,

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Insta: @mangolimes

 

How I left High School Yaritza behind & Faced 3 life-changing curly hair beliefs

When I look through my old pictures, sometimes I can’t believe the girl I’m looking at is ME!

I shouldn’t say IS, it’s more like WAS me. She is insecure, scared to show her roots, and trying so desperately just to fit in. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I used to pray to God to make my wishes come true.

“PLEASE – make me like everyone else.”

That wish never came true. Instead, He gave me ringlets, upon ringlets, that showed just how different I am. I would wake up extra early in the morning to be sure every part of my hair was straight so that my classmates wouldn’t see my true self.

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I don’t know what was worse: that I was scared of what my classmates would say if they saw my natural hair, or that I didn’t know how I would feel if I let myself go natural.

High School Yaritza let herself be defined by her hair and the way that it portrayed her to be: Simple and Manageable. Two words that could NEVER describe me now.

 

 

Something changed. Today, I am a 23-year-old Yaritza who is striving to be complex and heard every single day!

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I’ll tell you the Top 3 Things that I strongly believed up until I went natural 2 years ago:

  1. Curly hair is unprofessional. WRONG.

I honestly believe that my curly hair helped me come out of my shell, which provided more opportunities in the workplace. It 100% helped me get the Producer job that I have on the Top Radio Morning Show in the US!! My hair makes me unique, personable and gives me a look that no one else could have. Every curl is particular and perfect! I never thought I’d ever describe my hair as perfect, but it truly is for me.

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  1. Your hair will look like a bird’s nest if you leave it natural. SEMI-WRONG.

Okay, this one is tricky! My hair definitely has a mind of its own. I wake up some days and I have no idea what it’s doing and I’m diggin’ it, but of course, there are days where I have to wear it in a bun. Either way, it’s MY bird’s nest and guess who is going to rock it = ME!

  1. My hair can offend someone. PROBABLY BUT WHO CARES?

This is the one that truly hit home. This is what I was avoiding back in high school. Being pointed out and made fun of because of my curls. OH MY GOD! How wrong was I? I don’t even care if this is all I talk about anymore.

This is me.

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This is me. My hair is part of me. If you’re offended by my hair, then you’re offended by me, which means you need to get far, far away from me because I will not stand intolerance of something that I literally should never have to change. Don’t ever pay mind to those that say something about you needs to change! NOPE. NEVER.

You are perfect in every single way, shape, and form.

I locked this into my brain over the last couple of years because it was the most difficult thing for me to realize. Like 3LW sang in their classic song, “Haters gon’ hate”!!!

Accepting myself and my curls definitely wasn’t an overnight kind of thing. I was just fed up with this façade that I was upholding for years – basically my entire life. I wanted to feel more like myself, so I started watching more and more YouTube tutorials that really helped my curls out. I got my first Devacut and the rest is history! I’ll never look back.

Now, I get to feel like myself. My true self. Unfortunately, I can’t say that God has granted me my wish to be like everyone else.

He gave me something better.

I look like NO ONE ELSE and that’s just fine with me.

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Xoxo,

That Girl with The Big Hair,

Yaritza

 

Jean’s Web Picks

 

“This was my first time with my dominant. My Sir. The white man who controlled my Black body and its pleasure.”

 

If you’re pre-divorce, mid-divorce, post-divorce, or just want to read something beautiful.

 

Need a reminder not to give up on love?

 

Got the feels? Invite your crush over for homemade soup and snuggles.

 

This skirt is my soulmate.

 

I want to bear hug Dan Graves.

 

A thirty-second workout that’ll immediately lift your mood.

 

The best baby gift I received for my newborn.

 

Can I hire this dog to be my nanny?

 

Add one of these destinations to your New Year’s Resolutions.

Where to Eat in Madrid

Confession: I write this post in an attempt to convince my fellow ISD curlies to meet me in Madrid for a girls’ trip of culinary delight. And, believe me, if there is any way to persuade these gals it is through food! After all, this blog was born through a series of brunches where our ideas seemed to double with each sip of a mimosa or bite of a pancake! And, since January is the month of planning, why not plan about future holidays with your pals?
But this post is also simply about my enthusiasm for all things Spanish – especially food, especially Madrid. I’ve written two blogs about this amazing city already not for lack of inspiration but out of pure love!

So, for travel inspiration and serious food envy, here are my top five suggestions on where and how to eat in the Spanish capital.

 

  1. Albur, Malasaña

Albur is puro madrileño to me. You can’t beat its down to earth local feel and truly authentic menu. They do a decent paella and have quite the rice list, but that’s not what I would suggest. (It is worth noting that Valencianos would laugh at eating paella in Madrid. But I understand that if you’re only in Spain for a short time and can’t make it to the land of arroz, then you take what you can get when you can get it!).

If you like meat (and a lot of it), the chuletón or mega steak is where it’s at here. Spanish steak is some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Florence, your bistecca is amazing but my adoptive Spanish heart remains loyal). And Albur has an unusual take on it: they deliver the sliced steak seared but mostly raw to your table along with a sizzling hotplate, a hearty portion of perfectly roast potatoes, pimientos de padrón and a bowl full of sea salt. You cook the steak the way you like on the hot plate, salt it to your heart’s desire and just die with deliciousness. It’s ah-may-zing. My carnivorous hubby was in heaven – not gonna lie, so was I!

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The tapas menu is also top shelf at Albur as well. I (always) recommend pimientos de padrón and croquetas – not just at Albur but in Spain overall.

What also makes this joint so fun is that despite being in the middle of Madrid’s achingly pijo (posh) hipster neighbourhood, Albur has retained its character 110%. So, it’s not a trendy joint, it is just Albur.

  1. Bazar, Chueca

Speaking of trendy joints, though, my favourite is and always will be Bazar in the buzzing gay village in Madrid, just north of Gran Via. I was introduced to this place early in my first year in Spain and I make sure to have a meal at Bazar every time I’m back in Madrid. Maybe it’s the white décor with fuschia back lighting or the delicious Spanish-Asian fusion thing they’ve got going on, but Bazar always feels like a treat. One blog described it as the spot where you can always find “the well-heeled of Madrid,” which is both true and hilarious, but it is actually not as pretentious as that sounds. It’s just fancy fun!

One thing to note though: without a reservation, you can expect to wait a while or not get a table at all. So, book ahead if you can or scope out bars nearby for a vino while you wait.

  1. Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor

Now this place is totally a tourist trap and you can find tapas that are as good (or better) for half the price at other places. HOWEVER! It is so lively and vibrant that the ambience alone is worth the extra couple of euros. Located just near Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid, this old market has been converted into a collection of tapas bars that serve up all different regional specialties. This is another reason I like it: I can get Basque pinxos and Galician pulpo all in one place. It makes for a great end to a walking tour of central Madrid.

  1. Tapas Crawl in La Latina, La Latina

Now, it goes without saying that tapas is what and how you should eat in Spain. These small sharing plates make for an authentic and delicious way to dine. It also helps that you can get a perfect glass of red and a delicious nibble for 4 euros. La Latina is definitely the barrio to find tapas in Madrid because it’s got such a great vibe and is so madrileño. It is just south of Sol and north of Lavapies – very central.

I recommend doing your research beforehand though and finding an organized tapas crawl or at least noting the recommended bars because there is such a thing as tapas overload and you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, especially in such a touristy zone in Madrid where you can get sub-par food quite easily. DSC_0474

I recommend the following tours:

The Culture Trip

Madrid Food Tour 

 

  1. Chocolateria San Gines, Sol

Another central Madrid fave Chocolateria San Gines is smack dab in the middle of the city and serves up some churro and chocolate goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Again, it is in a touristy zone of Madrid so it is full of Americans asking stupid questions like,  “Why do they serve chocolate in a cup??” but ignore that. You can definitely find more authentic spots, but I’m keeping this list central, presuming that those who will be reading it will be tourists themselves and staying in downtown Madrid.

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My list could go on and on – I really don’t have enough good things to say about the Spanish capital and its culinary delights. It is worth mentioning, though, that Spanish food is not very veggie-friendly. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you may have to do some extra research to find out where to eat.

Happy planning (or just day-dreaming)! If you have any other questions about visiting Madrid, feel free to send them over.

 

 

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Kink in My Reflection

April 25th 2017, the day I met my hair. After 27 years, I met my hair for the very first time. “How?” you may ask. Well, for as long as I can remember I have had my natural hair manipulated using various methods including: the very hot – hot comb, texturizers, relaxers, braids, and weaves. As soon I had 1 inch of new growth it was time to top up on the chemicals. What I understood to be my hair does in no way compare to the beautiful, ferocious, curly afro that I now acknowledge, praise, love, and on occasion set-free.

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Straight relaxed hair
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Bantu Knot-Out on Relaxed Hair

Relax a little; better yet, relax it all

Getting a chemical relaxer every couple of months was a natural part of my routine. In the same way one would get their hair coloured or have their car cleaned, it was just something I did. Unbeknownst to me, the glory I felt walking out the hair salon with silky straight hair was a fabricated illusion taught to me by the society in which I was raised.

If my naps (aka kinky hairs) were controlled, I was that much closer to achieving what I perceived as the standard of beauty. It was also the easiest way to blur the lines of differences between my peers and myself. Only later will I learn that beauty lies IN our differences. This twisted perception presented itself to be true since there were few references for comparisons. The black women in my world -Tv personalities, teachers, aunts, cousins, friends, sister, mother- all conformed to the trend. What was a girl to do?

The damage was done

I have always been very adventurous with my hairstyles. I’ve cut it into short bobs, pixies, grew it long and even bleached it. After years of toying with it, the combination of a relaxer and bleach showed no mercy. After 2 months of rocking blonde-ish hair, it began to break in an uncontrollable manner – the damage was done. Every stroke of a comb, or brush against my pillowcase brought the immediate death to many strands.

Witnessing the damage that I had caused ignited my curiosity to uncover what I had been suppressing for almost 3 decades, the strength of my natural hair. And there was no time like now since that was all that remained.

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Afro
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Bantu Knot-out on Natural Hair

My unforeseeable 4C, now

Everyday is a new day on this journey and to be completely honest I am not exactly sure how to care for it just yet. It will be a steady process of trial and error until I find what works best. Needless-to-say, embarking on this journey has been enlightening in more ways than one. I’ve learned more about myself beyond the texture of my curls; yes, I confidently embrace them for what they are now. I’ve learned that my hair does not, will not and has never defined me. I am the same confident, relentless female I have always been. I’ve also learned that in embracing my hair I can be an example to someone who is fondling with the idea of going natural or a resource for answers to someone who has no idea what it means to have kinky hair. The beauty that is my hair is versatile, untamed, and 100% natural.

Seeing a kink in my reflection wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Drine

Andrinelong

 

 

 

 

 

Drine has a degree in business and currently works in management consulting. She is a young woman on the journey of self-discovery. She is a self-described foodie with a special interest in travel, animals, and investments. You can find her socializing with friends or on an impromptu trip to somewhere new.  Follow her journey on instagram [@morr_drine]

17 Musings of a Jamaican Canadian

A few musings and nuggets that highlight the random thoughts of a Jamaican bred, Canadian.

  1. Packing so I’m not overweight is my struggle. I have definitely been ‘that’ person moving things from my checked bag to carryon at the airport – and more than once.
  2. Yes, I’ve felt the lack of diversity at school and in the workplace like so many minority professionals. But the sole advantage of this is being able to kiss my teeth freely (if you don’t know what this is – urban dictionary is your friend) knowing no one is there to chastise me for it. I have and will continue to take full advantage of this solitary pro.
  3. I’m always on the hunt for a quality box lunch (Jamaican take out lunch meal) in Toronto.
  4. There is absolutely no reason why the line at the bank and the passport office in Jamaica need to be THAT long and THAT slow.
  5. The look of confusion on my face is downright obvious when people say they can’t tell that I have an accent. Is this because I’m speaking standard English and not patois? *waiting for an explanation*
  6. But at the same time I walk into Canadian Tire (home and hardware store) and have a conversation like this:
    1. Me: “Excuse me where are the portable heaters?” (because I’m obviously always cold)
    2. Sales Rep: “sorry?”’
    3. Me: “the portable heaters”
    4. Sales Rep: “I’m sorry, what?”
    5. Me: “the portable heeedders”
    6. Sales Rep: “oohh, aisle 7”
    7. Me: *still waiting for an explanation*
  7. I still struggle with these lake “beaches”. I have yet to full enter into one. I think I’ve stuck my big toe into the water twice – that’s about it.
  8. Sometimes I let out those old(er) English words and phrases in regular day to day conversation… words like “abreast” .
  9. Living in Jamaica I always thought it was better to be cold than hot. Canada has revealed the fallacy behind that thought process.
  10. Canada and the US are definitely not the same. And I came to this realization well before Trump was elected.
  11. Living outside of the Greater Toronto Area I question: WHERE do all these people of colour (I’m talking like entire families!) come from every spring? It’s like they’ve been hibernating all winter making me feel like more of a minority than I actually maybe am.
  12. Can you really call yourself my friend if I’ve never busted out some random patois phrase or Jamaican idiom in conversation, regardless of whether or not I think you can or would understand?
  13. When you complain about the potholes in Jamaica, but also complain about the road construction every spring in Ontario to avoid the same potholes you can’t stand and would otherwise complain about. A bit cyclical isn’t it?
  14. Tim Hortons is basically the Jamaican equivalent of a patty shop. More or less everyone can appreciate Timmy’s in Canada or a patty in Jamaica – regardless of your background.
  15. I’m pretty sure Goodlife fitness sells more Goodlife branded gym bags than actual gym memberships.
  16. *fries plantain* …. *eats entire plantain while frying said plantain*
  17. When people open the car door in the middle of oncoming traffic in Toronto I have to wonder – do you want to keep your car door? In other places in the world (Jamaica) that would be detached from your car before you could blink.

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A glimpse into Cuba … My top 5 tips

There’s a lot you could say about Cuba, and on a number of different topics: politics, art, government policies, music, education, healthcare….

But as a visitor looking to get a glimpse into this unique island nation, there are a few things I think my girlfriends and I did right.

So here are my 5 tips for making the most of your experience while visiting.

Say yes to una casa particular

I’ll declare my bias: I’m generally not a huge fan of weeklong vacations at chain all-inclusive resorts.

Sure – I understand why the convenience is attractive in a lot of different ways. And don’t get me wrong, if you give me a free vacation to a resort with luxurious amenities – I’m definitely going. But I just don’t think we can equate spending a week lounging at an all inclusive with actually seeing and appreciating a country.

If what you want is to get a glimpse into Cuba:  the history, the people, the politics, the grit, the old marble staircases in century old buildings, the reggaeton playing from the house of a neighbour, the man selling bread while singing his ‘jingle’ on the streets: then stay in a Casa. Trust me.

A casa can take the form of a room in a Cuban’s house, an apartment Cubans have rented out, or a bed and breakfast. We did all three and we had no regrets. Our hosts were all amazing and extremely helpful. You can access a number of casas through airbnb… but even before airbnb the casa system had long existed in Cuba.When you’re there you’ll see plenty of options that aren’t necessarily all available online. And because I know you’re wondering – yes, we felt very safe. Overall, we felt safe in Cuba. But when booking we also paid attention to reviews. We were also reassured of the system as while we were at one of our casas, a polite but firm immigration official came to ensure that the proper processes were in place and being followed by our host.

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– breakfast by one of our lovely hosts: eggs, fruits, bread, coffee

Sometimes its good to talk to strangers…

Because who likes snobby, entitled tourists? Not me.

I actually run away from those types when I’m overseas. Seriously.

Of course use your judgment and prioritize your safety, as you would anywhere you go. But don’t be afraid to converse with the locals.

Yes, some of us may have to struggle with the language a bit… but struggle if you must! You are truly depriving yourself of adding a whole other dimension to your experience if you don’t at least try to speak with the Cubans… even if speaking = charades. And since English is taught in school in Cuba, and tourism is important to the Cuban economy, it will be easier than you think to find someone who will speak at least a little bit of English with you.

I found most of the Cubans I interacted with to be quite friendly. Somehow with our bit of Spanish we were able to have some really interesting conversations with different people. When we asked open ended non biased questions about how Cubans thought Cuba could change, or how they would like to see it change, we found the individuals we asked were generally willing to share. One Cuban even asked us what we thought of his country – with what I thought was genuine interest.

Other times our conversations were just downright hilarious. And since it was trickier to access wifi and online reviews, we also got our best tips on restaurants, bars, and nightlife locations through asking different Cubans we met.

Consider hobbling over to another city… 

Because why not try and see a little bit more if you can?

And with that in mind, after spending some time in Havana, we kind of stumbled on Matanzas, or the city of bridges as they call it. Initially we thought, well, it’s close to Varadero and offers good value casa options. But what a fulfilling experience we had!

The vibe of Matanzas was completely different from Havana. Immediately we felt that we had left the big city, and arrived somewhere with a very different charm. With mainly one and two storey buildings around, it’s hard to hide from the sun and her glorious rays as you walk through the streets. But with the cool breeze from the sea, the weather is perfection.

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A quieter street in Matanzas…classes were being held nearby.

Not to mention Cubans actually live in Matanzas… unlike Varadero where the beaches are stunning but the tourists and all-inclusive resorts are plentiful.

Matanzas is a little talked about gem … it’s a simple city, but with everything you need.

We even got to share in a game of dominoes while having a beer in the middle of the street with a few new friends (Yes – there was a lot of Spanglish).

Needless to say, we were happy to take a taxi to Varadero to enjoy the beautiful beaches, if it meant that we could otherwise enjoy all Matanzas had to offer – including restaurants, and a nightlife scene.

 

 

 

 

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–  Varadero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venture out of the “tourist zones”

For one, it’s cheaper. It was quite shocking to note the difference in the price of food at even one end of the street in Havana Vieja to another, and this is without acknowledging the fact that at many establishments in Cuba there is a local price and a tourist price.

Not only is it cheaper – but it truly is eye opening to see a bit of Havana without the frills. We actually stayed in the core of the city, but outside Havana Vieja. We were close enough to walk into Havana Vieja as we pleased… but far enough to see different versions of the city in the day and in the night.

The malecón is one spot you should definitely make an effort to see. The scene is completely different in the day than it is in the night when Cubans flock the wall to get together with friends, stroll with a lover, or blast some music.

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Inside el Museo de la Revolución

Choose the Cuban food

It’s true. The array of spices and seasonings prevalent in other countries just aren’t as common in Cuba. So don’t expect to have the best pizza in the world in Cuba.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some great meals.

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garlic lobster at the beach? YES

I found that I particularly enjoyed the seafood and Cuban dishes that were prepared by the hosts we stayed with. I also found that the food in many of the smaller restaurants was actually quite delicious. Throughout the trip we enjoyed lobster tails, smoked pork (called ‘lomo ahumado’ – thank me later if you enjoy pork), rice and beans, fish, churros with condensed milk, fresh coconut water and jelly, and lots of fresh fruit and juices.

 

PS… don’t forget to sample all the piña coladas and mojitos possible!

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How to Survive Long Distance Relationships

The heartache, the anticipation, the joyous reunions, the practical benefits of a bit of time and space apart.  Each one of us at IfSheDreams has gone through a bout of long distance with our beaus (current or past) and we’ve all lived to tell the tale, although tales there are many! We decided to chat about it and share our stories, just as we usually do over eggs benny or wine, except this time in words right here on this blog. Read on to hear more about how we got through it.

Rebecca:

My fiancé and I have spent two thirds of our relationship apart. We shared a postal code when we began dating in Spain and then later in Toronto for a bit while I was finishing law school. Apart from those two interludes, our love has stretched from Canada to Spain, Australia to Canada, Canada to England, and now Canada to India. We have lasted up to six months without seeing each other, but usually manage to jump across ponds every couple of months now. Finally, finally, after we get married in March, we will at long last get to put our books on the same shelf (my milestone on what a home with my boo looks like).

Endurance of the heart is absolutely necessary to make it work. But then the reward at the finish line is so great!

The distance has been agonizing at times – most times – but we’ve dealt with it remarkably well, I think. We’re both quite intense when it comes to our endeavours, which is the real reason we’ve spent so much of our relationship at a distance. The time apart has allowed us to give work and study our all when required, whether it was articling in Toronto or a PhD in Punjab. And sometimes when you feel lonely, work is all you can do to fill the gap. So I try to think of long distance relationships now as rather productive ones and keep myself from being idle at all costs!

Long distance is a marathon – you have to stretch your patience over months or weeks, making it last to the final drop until you can replenish. Endurance of the heart is absolutely necessary to make it work. But then the reward at the finish line is so great!

That is the beauty of long distance relationships: the frustrations are many, but the joys are so joyous!

Jean:

LDR = long distance relationships

Ok, full disclosure—I thought LDRs were just endurance flogging. No physical intimacy. No shared adventures. No stealth eating the last of their favorite leftovers. No hand holding. (I love holding hands. It’s right up there with eating your partner’s OFF-LIMITS turkey sandwich over the kitchen sink.) Plus 2-3 hours per day of phone calls, texting, emails, skyping, naked pics… Equals a constant feeling of being whipped, and not the kind anyone likes.

Oh and I’m the WORST candidate for LDRs.

I rarely have my phone on me. And when I do, it’s usually dead. Or, about to die. Or, cracked and malfunctioning. Or, about to be abandoned, lost, or forgotten.

I have an insatiable need for physical affection. No, I’m not talking about sex. I just like to be touched. And held. And to hold others. And did I mention holding hands? Sign. Me. Up.

I’m also a bit…. Random (a nice word for unreliable). I tend to change plans, reorganize my schedule at a whim, and cancel way more than I should. This means that if we’re supposed to talk at 8PM, that may or may not become 10PM, or 11:30PM or 1PM the next day. I have good reasons for my randomness, but excuses are the first stop toward Breakup Ville.

If that isn’t enough, I guard my independence and freedom so savagely, you’d think it was a vintage Louis Vuitton handbag.

Soo.. when I met my fiancee in New York (where I didn’t live and had no intention of moving to), I thought summer fling. But, he has perfect teeth, legendary Italian charm, a list of interests as long as… (I don’t kiss and tell) but it’s LONG 😉

He laughed me out of a comatose state on the same day a friend took his own life, a feat for which he should win a medal. And I never have to ask him to hold my hand, or wrap me in his arms, because he’s always already doing both. How could I not fall in love with him? And how could I ever let him go? Impossible. He’ll be next to me when I’m gray and creaky and my only joy is chucking pebbles at teenagers from a rocking chair.

We’ve been in a LDR for a year and a half now. There are times when I’d gladly take a few lashes to have him next to me. And, now that we are expecting a son, I miss him more than ever. I miss his hands on my belly. I miss him playing guitar to our beautiful baby. I miss him setting a sandwich next to my desk, and squeezing lemon into a glass of water for me. I miss curling my foot over his at night, and our late night talks in the shower.

Just keep the finish line in your sights and bear down for a marathon of the heart.

I only sugarcoat cake so I’m gonna be straight with you. It’s awful. And, it only works for us because it has to work. Being without him isn’t an option. If that’s how you feel about your partner, don’t worry. You’ll make it through. Just keep the finish line in your sights and bear down for a marathon of the heart.

Valerie:

Spicy man and I have been together for almost nine years. We spent a year apart when I was in school. Overnight, our time together transitioned from being together everyday to daily phonecalls. The transition was very difficult but also strengthened us both individually and as a couple. As a couple, we had shared many of the same classes in university and volunteered with the same organizations when we were together. Being away forced me to do things completely on my own and reminded me of what my interests, passions, strengths and opinions were as a individual. This time helped make clear my individual identity and in this way, improved the health of my relationship.

There were difficult times. Arguments were difficult to completely resolve if one person was busy or wanted to hang up. If one of us wanted to share some immediate news we’d have to wait until there was some free time in the other’s schedule. These challenges made us appreciate our time together that much more. There were lovely surprise visits when I could introduce him to new friends, take him out on the town, etc.

My suggestions in helping you survive an LDR would be to schedule regular calls and make sure that nothing comes in the way of that. Your commitment to that time will indicate to the other person that they are still a priority, commitment and fun part of your life.

5 years after our LDR I still have our bracelets and they serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come together and how much stronger we can be.

I also used and recommend ordering a rubber LDR bracelet that I ordered from this site: http://lovingfromadistance.com/ldrbracelets.html – there are three colours: purple, pink and brown. I wanted to publicly brand spicy man as taken while I was away – don’t worry – I didn’t make him wear the pink one. These bracelets were cute and reminded me of him when I’d look down at my wrist. 5 years after our LDR I still have them and they serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come together and how much stronger we can be. We’ll be getting married in June! 

Michela:

It’s more and more likely that at some point you’ll be faced with making the decision about whether or not you can, or more importantly, whether you want to make a long distance relationship work. In my experience long distance relationships aren’t easy to navigate and may require attitudinal shifts, but definitely require communication and persistence. But having been through one that didn’t work –I’m actually not jaded by the ‘long distance’ part of relationships.

Honestly, it’s not the “let’s talk every evening at x time” type of communication I value, but instead it’s the depth and honesty of communication.

Ensuring both you and your partner are on the same page about your goals and intentions for your time apart, and for your relationship, are important. Long distance relationships take work – and it usually becomes apparent if you both aren’t in agreement on how you see each other in your life. How can it work if you both don’t agree on what you want the end goal to look like? Or at the very least, how you’ll develop a strategy to figure out what it looks like.

Having been through one that didn’t work –I’m actually not jaded by the ‘long distance’ part of relationships.

After that, it’s the spontaneous messages and calls that keep the connection going…

Yes, you’d expect that in any relationship, but I think you need it even more so when you don’t see each other regularly. If you’re together it’s likely because if something happens in the day that vexes you, you probably want and appreciate your partner’s opinion on how to deal with it (or not kill someone), or maybe something makes you burst out in laughter, that you want no need to share (even if it’s mad corny).  

Long distance relationships work when 2 people want them to…

Only when no matter how hard it is with travel, time change and separation, it’s just simply harder on the heart to be apart.

When the tables turn, that’s probably the point when it’s time for you both to consider accepting the lessons you’ve learned from each other, and then part ways.

 

Is this Art?

I slayed as an Artist-in-Residence in Cape Town, South Africa—  and here’s how

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Table Mountain and the Woodstock Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Who am I anyway that I can give you advice?

My name is Kieran Elise O’Brien. The thing you should know about me is that I moved from my hometown of Victoria, BC to Montreal, Quebec in 2011 to get back together with my ex-boyfriend, which was exactly as bad an idea as it seems. When we broke up a year later, I ran away to Japan. In Japan, I fell in love (again) and in fairly short order I moved to Da Nang, Vietnam to chase that love (good news: we lived happily ever after). I want you to know that I have made some impulsive travel decisions (why yes, I am a sagittarius) and as much fun as it is to fly blindly into adventures: I propose that an Artist Residency is the best way to travel.  

Why?

  • Break out of your routine: You perceive time differently on vacation. I think there is nothing more inspiring than traveling. If you feel creatively stifled, If you feel bored by your day-to-day routines, then I am talking to you, dude. You don’t need to plan a trip to another continent. You can look for artist residencies in or near your own town. Look for short-term artist residencies. This one in Banff is only eight days long: https://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/winter-writers-retreat/20170213
  • Make time: You have a great idea for a novel. You used to paint and you’ve always meant to pick it up again. Take your creative work off of the backburner! Enter into an exceptional space where you can prioritize your creative work- and perhaps most importantly, where you can set yourself a deadline.    
  • Get access to resources: The architect behind Side Street Studios, Elad Kirshenbaum, was extraordinarily helpful to me. He was my host, tour guide, patron, collaborator and friend during my time in Cape Town. Through him, I had access to resources and connections that I would never have been able to source on my own.
  • Get to know a place: By setting aside a week (or four) to visit just one city, you are allowing yourself to fall in love with that place. Go for the thrill of something new and stay long enough to become a regular at your local cafe, to learn the street names, to notice all the glorious little differences made by a rainy day.

How it all began…

I had it in my head from the very beginning that I wanted to travel and be a graduate student. I am writing about my mother’s immigration to Canada from South Africa, and I study African Literature, so given my research interests, Cape Town became my desired destination early on in my academic career. I might have applied to a conference there, or applied to be a visiting student, both are good options for graduate students. Instead, I applied to be an Artist-in-Residence on the recommendation of my friend Zola (who writes a naturalist newsletter and is an all-round magnificent human being). She sent me a link to the website resartis, a “worldwide network of Artist Residencies” with a database that you can search by country. Unfortunately, there were only three residencies in South Africa listed on their site and none of them was quite the right fit for me. I decided to broaden my search. I googled “Cape Town Artist Residency” and from there I found Side Street Studios. Yes, that’s the big secret to my success: I literally just googled it.

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The Rooftop Residency at Side Street Studios in Cape Town, South Africa

Warning: Plan your trip well in advance to access travel grants

I contacted Side Street Studios by email and I sent them a project proposal. After that, the trip came together quickly- so quickly that I was not able to apply for the travel grants available through my department and through the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I also missed out on applying for funding through my city, province and country. For example, I might have been eligible for funding through the Ontario Arts Council, which offers a “National and International Residency Projects” grant of up to $10,000. Don’t make the same mistake I did! I suggest you plan your residency a year and a half in advance, keeping funding deadlines in mind, as well as the particulars of your destination. For example, it’s a good idea to plan around weather conditions and national holidays.

Although I was not able to apply for the grants I’ve mentioned above, I did run a successful gofundme campaign. Through my campaign, I was able to raise enough money to cover the residency fee. Some Artist Residencies have fees, some don’t. Even those that don’t will certainly have associated costs like travel to and from the residency. Although some residencies have financial aid or honorariums to help you with your expenses. While you’re considering a particular residency, I recommend making a budget and estimating potential costs before you apply. It will come in handy when you try to access funding.      

40 days in Cape Town

With the help of family and friends, I made it to Cape Town. There in ‘the mother city,’ I met distant family members and I charted out a family tree that goes back six generations. I did as much sight-seeing as I could, and of course, I made art. I published a small zine that included the work of three local writers. I hosted a poetry reading and panel discussion with those same writers- and I designed a neon sign! It was my first foray into visual art. Looking back on my time in Cape Town, I am both proud of the work I did and grateful for the collaborative spirit of the many, many people who encouraged and inspired me to get creative. I hope that I can be one of those people for you. Go and get weird, my friend.

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home is no longer here. 2016. Neon sign. OneK collection. Cape Town.

P.S. Here are a couple of Artist Residencies that have caught my attention:

  • Cafe Tissardmine in Rissani, Morocco: The most important information we need is the reason you feel the desert is the right place for you to be.” 
  • The Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida: Each residency consists of approximately a three month stay in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums.”

Good Luck,

Kieran

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Kieran Elise O’Brien is a poet and a student at the University of Toronto where she is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing. She loves flowers, ice cream sandwiches and the pond in the courtyard at Massey College. She is currently working on a collection of poems about the adventures of her alter-ego Bad Cowgirl. You can find her on tumblr, twitter and instagram.

 

“Be Really Good at What You Do” and Other Advice From GirlBoss Sharon Lockwood

Writing this piece was really special for me. Sharon Lockwood is a Toronto-based designer, business woman extraordinaire, and –simply put — a creative genius. She is also my wonderful mum! Sharon has founded not just one but two businesses in her lifetime and we at If She Dreams have wanted to pick at her boss-lady brain for a long time now. I can easily say that my own entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by her example. Running my own business was never an impossibility and success was not off limits – she proved it. Interestingly, at around the same time that I took the plunge and started my own business(es), Sharon did the same for the second time! She expanded her graphic design firm Line of Sight Design with a new adventure in textiles called ZayZay,  an exotic brand of luxury linens. Read on as The Boss shares her insight and wisdom as an entrepreneur, a mother, and a woman of colour.

 So, tell us about your empire.

My first business was Line of Sight Design, a graphic design firm that I founded in 1985, which has been growing and creating ever since. Our expertise is in branding that includes marketing and promotional materials, websites, signage, multimedia exhibits, packaging, and event promotions. We even design wedding invitations!
In 2015, I launched ZayZay – a vibrant collection of luxury duvet covers and bed linens. We have 25 limited edition designs, all my original paintings and creations, printed onto the highest quality 100% Egyptian cotton. ZayZay linens transform a neutral space, the bedroom, into living art.

Why did you start ZayZay at this point in your career? You already had a super successful design firm going!

I have run Line of Sight for 30 years and have enjoyed every second of it. But I have been working primarily in the corporate realm all this time, which is consistent with revenue but a bit of a straight jacket in terms of creativity. Well, not always, though it is true that corporate graphic design is not generally very spontaneous or fun. What I longed for (and suppose what I got in small doses when I taught at Ryerson and OCAD) was an injection of spontaneity and joy from the creative aspects of design. I wanted to blend my business knowledge with something that would go back to my initial attraction to art college in the beginning: textiles. I spent several years thinking about how to leverage my experience and find an avenue to apply my creativity legitimately.

Eventually it came to me to create and design duvet covers – a duvet cover is essentially an 8-foot canvas for your bed! There is a lot of room for creativity there. From a business standpoint, I thought this would garner more revenue in a way that was very different from the billable hour model of graphic design.

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I put in about three years of intense research before launching ZayZay in October 2015. Skin health and the planet matter to me. Central to the philosophy of ZayZay is adherence and certified eco-integrity in the manufacturing, for example water recycling, no chemical additives, and fair and safe labour practices.

What have you learned on this new path from graphic design to textiles and retail?

 I am learning so much, honestly. I realized I had been so ignorant to many things about this new world we live in terms of communication.  But I also realized that I would have had to learn it with Line of Sight as well, even if ZayZay didn’t come about. Communication has changed drastically. There has been a profound shift in the way people talk to each other. So design, marketing, must change, too.
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Why did you start your own business in the first place and what do you like about it?

I love the flexibility. When I say flexibility, it’s a little bit delusional, but when you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission – to pick up something or delay your arrival if needed. Not to say you can do this too often because you can’t (if you do, you won’t have a business). But you have the choice. That totally changes your relationship with work. Could I ever work for anyone else now? No, never. It’s the sense of freedom on a moment by moment basis that keeps me going.
When you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission
When I was working for someone else in my early days as a designer, I made a lot of money for other people. I realized I could be the one to benefit financially from my own hard work. This was a huge, huge incentive for me to go off on my own.
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Accommodating a family was also a big factor. Having my own business, I could be flexible as a mum – I could even have my kids in my office (and I did at times). I don’t believe I would have held a job having three children within the space of four years because I was perpetually pregnant that whole time. The downside to being a small business owner while a mother was not being able to take maternity leave. On the other hand, the ability to say “I’m taking my kids to the doctor” or “I’m looking after my sick child today” without asking permission of anyone was huge. Mind you, you do have clients. In this sense, instead of having one boss, you have several people to answer to!

What advice do you have to other entrepreneurial women?

Being really good at what you do, really really good, and knowing you are good is a necessity when you have your own business. And you also can’t underestimate getting experience working for someone else because, in the end, it can be very costly learning lessons on your own.
Managing people well is also enormously important; that’s going to make or break your business. You have to have a policy for how you want people to behave, how your business should function, have a set of rules in place before you start, even before you have a staff. Lay down the game rules, make a wish list of exactly what each role entails and who you’d like to hire. So that you know before you’re in a position of panic what type of person you can and want to work with.
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However, none of this I knew when I started. When I started off on my own with Line of Sight, it was out of fury and rage because someone told me I couldn’t and I was determined. When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
With my second company [ZayZay], it started very differently. I am older now but I am not ready to stop working. I wanted to change how I worked and have reason to be out of the office, exercise my creativity, travel, and put my signature on something. Design is often very anonymous and you create something beautiful on behalf of someone else. But ZayZay is mine, it’s my project. And, of course, I want to get really rich and indulge myself (and my children). Make money first and then go for the bohemian lifestyle 😉
When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
 Looking back, anything you’d do differently?
Would I change anything? No, I wouldn’t.  Not at all. Even the last 12 months which have been very challenging, I have learned so much. And I’m grateful for that.

Pssst….ZayZay is having a massive sale for Valentine’s Day! Check out http://www.zayzayshop.com to see the deals – 40% off until February 14th! If you want to feel and see these beauties in real life, check out their pop-up shop at 216 Ossington Ave (just south of Dundas) from February 10-12th!

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