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La Casa Cubana


Lest you think that all I do in Cuba is sit on the beach and drink pina coladas, well the truth is that I do. See I lived there from 1988 to 1991 while I was a child, and I could not imagine a more perfect place to grow up. My father was working there on an oil pipeline at the time, and I was partially homeschooled, partially attended a local school and in general ran totally wild. My parents allowed us to have the kind of childhood that is now spoken of nostalgically with fast bike rides all over town, climbing crumbling buildings to build a fort on the roof, midnight stealth missions to the beach to see if we can spot a manta ray, and hours and hours outside unsupervised, playing, coming in only to eat supper and do chores.

But eventually that part of life ended, my parents emigrated to Canada and life went on in a different direction. I didn’t return to Cuba until I was seventeen on my first real solo vacation and I fell in love all over again. Spanish tried to return to my brain with mild success, the people were how I remembered them, and our old hotel where we lived was much smaller than I remembered it, as anyone who has ever returned to childhood stomping grounds can attest to.  I have since been back a half dozen times, often with family who love Cuba as much as I do. We generally fly all inclusive because no one wants to be a burdensome house guest twice a year, and also because plane tickets alone cost almost as much as a hotel stay. The town where we lived, Matanzas, is quite close to Varadero so it’s easier to visit with friends.         

One of the things I love when traveling is seeing how people live in other countries. It’s always a deep thrill for me to step outside the same-ness of a hotel room and visit someone’s house. If that visit includes a home cooked meal all the better. In that spirit I wanted to give you a glimpse into the house of our friends in Matanzas.  Theirs is a rather wealthy house by Cuban standards, they are a mixed couple with Domingo being a native Cuban, a former military officer and a journalist, and Oksana hailing from the Ukraine. They met when he was overseas in university and returned to Cuba to make a life. Since she still has plenty of family in Lviv, they are financially much more secure than she would have been otherwise. 

So without further ado, here is a tour of house on an island just off Florida.


The streets of Matanzas



 Socialist slogans are everywhere


A neighbors’ motorcycle


The house from the outside


A happy puppy playing with my uncle


A tiny garden in the front of the house – bonus poins if you recognize any of the plants


The inner courtyard


Milk cooling on the steps


Rooftop veranda


Mango tree laden with unripe fruit



An outdoor prep kitchen (behind the blue tarp in the photo above). Notice almost everything is homemade – shelves, doors.


Tiny ‘apple’ bananas – the flavor is out of this world


An inside patio at the back of the house



The living room


The small but well used kitchen. All the appliances are miniature versions of North American. The stove is about half as large as our standard one, and the fridge is tiny also. Perhaps New York Apartment dwellers would find it familiar.


The spread – amazing – green salad, arroz con frijoles, lobster, yucca root and more.




If you also find homes fascinating, share the neat features of dwellings you’ve seen and what made them memorable.  I for one, adore the intermixing of the outdoors that is evident in many Cuban homes. The climate allows for a minimum of walls the ease with which indoors and outdoors intermingle is wonderful to me, since I live in a climate where protection from the elements is paramount and where an open patio door in the summer is as close as we get. I also love the way the mango tree grows right outside the kitchen door and as the house was expanded (the outdoor kitchen was added well after the main structure was built), the house simply wrapped itself around it allowing it to grow and fruit. It’s like a reverse treehouse and the kid in me thrills at the possibilities.

Back in the saddle


I’m back from sunny Cuba, and unlike my last trip it was a rather mediocre vacation, mainly due to the family choice of hotels. Travel tip – if you’re going to Varadero don’t stay at the tip of the peninsula. The marshy and boggy land spawns mosquitoes like Manitoba’s forests do, and no amount of spraying they do can diminish their staggering numbers. Also the beaches suck.  But days were still sunny and beautiful, we saw our friends and got the customary sunburn so of course it wasn’t all bad.  

While I was gone Iceland exploded in a truly cool and expensive eruption and I wanted to share a link to the coolest photos of the volcano I’ve seen to date. Here. Nothing drives home the power of nature better than events like this and it’s impossible to see the photos without appreciating just how powerful the planet is and how insignificant we are.

The garden is feeling neglected, so my to do list this week includes deeply watering my trees since we are in a drought and they could use a long soak, repotting my tomatoes into tall containers – likely pop and milk jugs one more time before they go outside, and planting peas. Since we’ve had such a warm spring I could’ve done this already, but I procrastinated so in they go now, along with lettuce. Since we’re still a month away from last frost I should still be good for time. This year I’m planting an heirloom variety that happens to be a bush pea since they climbed too well last year and were flattened by the winds into a messy jungle. I also need to rake the grass somewhere in there… busy time spring is.




I also need to sort out a solution to hardening off my tomato seedlings. It was a pain in the butt when I only had nine plants, but this year I’ve got triple that amount and hauling them up and down the stairs is a dangerous and time consuming proposition. I’m contemplating rigging up some sort of permanent like shelter a week or so before they go outside. Anyone have any solutions to this problem? This seems like the most PITA part of the whole seed starting process.  If my interest in growing food continues (and I have a feeling it will), I may simply have to get a greenhouse and save myself the headache.

My cats rule and I love all three of them in very different ways, but the depths of my white deaf boy’s weird behavior know no bounds. He’s recently learned a new trick – locking himself in the bathroom and hollering on top of his lungs to be let out. His process is as follows: he goes into the bathroom and sniffs around for a few minutes. Then he backs into the bathroom door butt first until it closes. Then he turns around and starts yelling at it indignantly. If we’re not careful and leave a wedge of some sort he’ll spend the whole day locked up in there alternating between screaming and sleeping until we get home and let him out. He’s so special it hurts.




Anyhow it’ll be a busy week and I’m thrilled that summer feels around the corner.



Smart AND purty


Me:  Honey, I’m just buying some tickets to Cuba for my family, and I’m being lobbied pretty hard to go with. What do you think?

Him (hurriedly): GO! Go have fun. I’ll even pay.

Me: ???

Him: Just go relax on the beach, get lots of rest and come home in a good mood for summer.

Me: Why have I been that bitchy lately?

Him: Well, maybe just a bit… on second thought…

I can sense him being all diplomatic and for a second I feel bad that he has to tiptoe around my possible mood swings lately, but people I haven’t had a vacation since the fall. And in my universe that’s just a bit too long. Winter is over, I’ve got cabin fever and the closest road trip we’ve got on the horizon is Vancouver Island sometime in July. So I took him at his word and am flying out to celebrate my aunt’s fiftieth birthday on a beach in the tropics, the way they’re meant to be celebrated.

See y’all in a week!