Finding your center is more about living connected with everything.
About Howard Caesar
Howard Caesar has been speaking, teaching and inspiring audiences with his transformational spiritual messages since his twenties. Recognized as a leader in his field, he has served and built two large ministries. The most recent was in Houston, Texas where he served for 30 plus years. His positive, practical, progressive approach to spirituality has empowered thousands of people to live happier, more prosperous and fulfilling lives.
Howard’s Personal Philosophy on Oneness
Every person is first and foremost an eternal spiritual being. They are in the process of growing in conscious awareness of the truth that their Real Self is Spirit, which is whole, free and perfect.
The true nature of God is love and goodness. Its Presence is found in ALL THAT IS. Everything is alive with God’s life energy.
“Either we learn to master our mind, or it becomes master over us. Either we learn to use it properly or it will use us. All conflict is a product of the mind, unmanaged and lost in the separation of the Truth of God and our True Selves. Wisdom is found in the heart and will show the way back to peace, love, and joy.
…I believe that whatever the circumstances or situation of the world or a person’s life, that through perseverance in living the principles, and following inner guidance, things do shift to the good, and the Light will always win in the end.”
Howard has traveled the world, led pilgrimages to other lands, presenting uplifting messages to tens of thousands via radio, TV, and the internet, always communicating inclusivity, diversity, love, and oneness.
Howard and his wife, Diane, have three grown children, three grandchildren and reside in Sugar Land, Texas.
The artist shares her journey to living a remarkable life.
About Jane A. Gordon
Jane A. Gordon is a jewelry designer, speaker, teacher, artist, and visionary, whose artful and unpredictable designs are the creative product of remarkable journeys (real world, emotional and spiritual). This path led to a philosophy of life that together, we can make a quantum leap to a better world by igniting joy, success, leadership, and oneness, one person at a time.
Gordon’s careers, adventures, and singular vision began in Main Line Philadelphia, where she was an odd kid who preferred books overplay. Growing up in a home and schools without rules, she was trained from a young age to question everything, (taking it to extremes at 14years old, boarding a plane and running away briefly to Puerto Rico). An acting audition landed her at Stella Adler in New York University, where she also studied comparative religion and experimental psychology. Curiosity about the world, a decision to be a leaf in the wind, embracing an adventurous personality, and life’s vicissitudes brought her to live in NY, London, Geneva, Rome, Spain, and Palm Beach. While working and traveling extensively throughout the world, she toured with rock and roll groups (including Earth Wind & Fire, and The Rolling Stones), was a consultant, did promotions, sold commercial real estate, created as an artist, mentored, and more. Gordon has explored the world for work and play, by land and sea on boats ranging from cruise ships to tiny racing sloops. (courtesy of Jane A. Gordon)
Her Life’s Philosophy
It never entered her mind that being a female artist set her apart. For almost 15 years before accidentally discovering herself as an artist, Gordon was in the completely male-dominated field of New York City commercial real estate. In this environment, being a woman in a group of 3,000 men who without even realizing it, wanted to sexualize, infantilize, marginalize, or demean her. Just as in judo, where one will use the other’s force to flip the opponent easily, Gordon learned to hide her truest self; and, use those prejudices as negotiating tools. Gordon never needed approval from others to break barriers, having had a role-model mother who was an architect, anthropologist, lawyer, and an incredibly talented artist. As an artist, Gordon has learned to give herself away to find herself. She seeks opportunity in challenges and loves to link people together, supporting each other’s visions and goals by sharing resources in mutually beneficial collaborations. Her advice to other women in the arts is to “Just do your best, don’t compare yourself to others, try new things fearlessly, and never ask if you are good enough. You are! Now create, and go out to find the people who love your work.” (courtesy of Jane A. Gordon)
You can find out more information about Jane by visiting her website; and, following her on social media!
Jane A. Gordon Website: Jane A. Gordon
D’angelo Thompson. D’angelo Thompson is known for his mastery of beauty and quality aesthetic. He is also one of the entertainment industry’s most sought-after artisans. Originally from Chicago, D’angelo always dreamed of one day taking the beauty industry by the reigns both nationally and internationally; and, in the past two decades, has done so in a phenomenal way. It is his personal vision to elevate his
profession by creating a global brand and community, empowering all to see and celebrate their beauty.
As a professional, D’angelo’s expertise extends to beauty, bridal, editorial, commercial, film, TV and private clients. As hair and makeup artist for guests and celebrities on The Wendy Williams Show from 2008 – 2011, D’angelo earned three Daytime Emmy nominations with a win for “Guest Hair” in 2010. Most importantly, in over two decades, D’angelo has developed a body of work that classifies him in the A-list of beauty professionals. He is currently working with Law & Order SVU (Seasons 17, 18 & 19), Blue Bloods (Season 8), Worst Cooks,/Celebrity, Joy Mangano/IDL, HSN and Pudding Boy Productions. As an author, D’angelo’s self-published lifestyle and beauty book entitled “Enhanced Beauty” (2016) continues to sell domestically and internationally.
Stay in touch with him:
Brand Ambassador, Owner of www.EnhancedBeauty.nyc
If you thought the most important legacy you can leave your children is about money, read this now.
Bob and Bea have been married for 25 years. They’re at a stage in their lives where it’s the two of them – empty nesters. Their adult children are out of the house. Their son, 21, is a senior in college and is in a serious love relationship. And their daughter, 23, recently got engaged. So now, it is just the two of them at home. It’s been that way for the past four years.
One night, Bob and Bea decided to have a conversation about the legacy they wanted to leave for their adult children and their future grandchildren. They were talking about money. While this is important, unbeknownst to both of them, they had already left a lifetime legacy to their son and daughter in other vital areas, as well. Most importantly, it included how to be married, survive, and hopefully thrive, in love and marriage. The legacy they already left for both their son and daughter began while their children were growing up and developing from childhood into adulthood.
Since parents are a child’s first role models, everything they say and do when things are going well between them, as well as when they are not, matter because they are providing a “How to Manual” for creating a mindset and skill set for living under the same roof in harmony or disharmony.
Three Specific Areas of Legacy
There are three specific areas, besides money, that children need role models from their parents and caretakers. Here’s a snapshot of the legacy Bob and Bea provided for their children during their lifetime about how a husband and wife successfully functions “day by day” in a marriage.
Having a Purpose and Vision for Life
The first legacy is how to develop and manifest a “Purpose” and a “Vision” for a successful marriage, family, and life together. They modeled how essential it is to have a focus based on having a bigger purpose and vision of a successful marriage, family, and life.
This aspect is important because having a purpose and a vision provides a reason and perspective to focus on mutual success. It gives perspective and a reminder of why both partners are together, especially when challenges surface. What a person “focuses on expands.” Bob and Bea knew all too well that focusing on each other’s negative characteristics would result in anger, frustration, and resentment. They also knew that focusing on and appreciating each other’s positive attributes activated more positive feelings that recharged their relationship and inspired each to become better persons.
Communicating Effectively to Show Love and Appreciation
The second legacy is how to consistently communicate both verbally and nonverbally how much they mattered to each other. These messages were expressed in small and large ways through words, deeds, the tone of voice gestures, facial expressions and more. The consistency of this quality of communication nurtured and strengthened their bond, which was (and still is) the foundation of their long-term, satisfying marriage. The objective is to avoid taking each other for granted, leave a legacy of daily small gestures and expressions of love, care, and kindness.
Managing Conflict to Grow into Better People
The third legacy parents need to leave for their growing and developing children during the years of their growth and development is how to respectfully resolve, dissolve and manage conflict by communicating in a way that stretches and grows each spouse into becoming a better person. This legacy was the most challenging one for Bob and Bea.
Instead of not knowing how to efficiently deal with unresolved arguments and conflict about inevitable and sometimes severe problems, Bob and Bea demonstrated how to solve, dissolve or manage problems. It took time and lots of practice, but well worth the time and energy to accomplish. They both knew that mastering this mindset and skillset was crucial to their growth and development as adults and they were committed to being successful in this area. Their children were watching and learning.
Developing this skill is important because unresolved conflict leading to communication breakdown is the #1 killer of love and marriage relationships. Communication breakdown leaves couples feeling hurt, angry, frustrated, sad and scared as you drift further apart with every new conflict. Since you can’t solve a problem at the level of thinking and acting that created it, a new system of communicating is needed to replace the one that doesn’t work.
Like Bea and Bob, as the primary role models for your children of any age, leaving a legacy in these three intangible areas along with the tangibles (money, for example) is as important and must be included in your legacy. For more support, we have described how to resolve these types of communication breakdowns in-depth in our book, Mining for Gold in Your Marriage, available on Amazon.
We would love to hear your thoughts and comments!
To your relationship success,
Jesse and Melva
As Marriage/Couples/Relationship Coaches & Counselors, Jesse and Melva Johnson, are committed to supporting healthy relationships. They have over 60+ years of combined experience as psychotherapists, relationship educators, workshop leaders, public speakers, authors, and consultants. They have also appeared on local and national radio and television shows and in numerous print media.
Learn more about them by visiting their website, www.jesseandmelva.com
To Judge me or not to judge me, that is not the question.
I grew up being told not to judge others until I walked a day in their shoes. Yet, someone seemed to have taught you differently, as you continue to judge others each and every day!
I stand on the street feeling your eyes pierce down upon me however not in a complimenting way as you attempt to make a blow at my confidence with your uncomfortable glances. I look back up to you giving you the biggest smile with no care in the world as you as you continue to glare while walking away.
I apologize random person, did you expect to upset me in any sort of way or to impact my life? You failed to realize you were judging someone who skips to the beat of her own drum and requires no validation for her own existence in life.
“When you judge another you do not define them, you define yourself…“
The world is comprised of many different people, each trying to get through life within itself. Obstacles that challenge us each day, yet you seem to think it is okay to judge someone without knowing the complications or challenges they have faced or continue to face each day.
That “overweight” individual that you cannot stop staring at, laughing as they walk by. Did you stop to think that they may have already lost weight and are on a life journey of losing more? perhaps fighting some illness or depression which does not allow them to have that “perfect” body.
That homeless guy sitting on the curbside begging for your loose change. Perhaps once, the CEO of the company you are employed at but could not overcome his addiction and has already partially given up on life.
The sleeves of tattoos on my arms and legs and shaved hair as I walk down the street. Clenching your purse tighter with a look of shock at my appearance. If only you knew, I have the biggest heart of gold and would be the first to help you. If only you knew, I have the biggest goals in life, that I am successful and will always continue to strive for more. For all the times I have been stared or judged at, If only you knew that I wished and hoped that one day you could wake up as confident as I do.
“If you judge a book by its cover, you may miss out on an amazing story…“
Do you care about anything at all aside from what you see at face value? Do you think twice before you place such harsh judgement on individuals? Truth is, you do not need to care, however you should be the last person to judge anyone without knowing what cross roads they have faced in their lifetime.
“Don’t talk about me, until you have talked to me. Don’t underestimate me until you have challenged me. Don’t judge me until you know me…“
Compassion is lacking in your heart. Compassion to just know that we can not understand everyone’s struggles in life but to have a heart to not judge them anymore as they have already been judged enough. Compassion, what is found within your heart, that soft spot that keeps you in check realizing that we are not perfect human beings. Compassion, what you require in your heart to become less judgemental of another.
All the energy used to judge another, if it could be focused on more compassion and less judgement we could evolve into such a beautiful world.
If I allowed myself to be affected by every incident of judgement upon me, I would not grow to where I am today and I would be giving in to everyone’s insecurities. Instead I offer you compassion from my heart that one day you will wake up and realize your life was never perfect. I can only wish and hope that no one shall pass judgement or pain to you as you have caused another. Then my dear you will soon see they have judged you and were yet to have walked a day in your shoes…
Sharon Angela Lee
Sharon Angela Lee is an empowered, inspired writer from the blog, YAIMSHARON.COM. She says, “I truly believe we all have dreams, whether people believe it will happen or not, it does not matter because it all starts with YOU. We pave our paths to create our destiny and what differentiates us from the rest is we NEVER stop BELIEVING. YOU are the reason to why I wake up and continue to blog. So that we can all grow to love ourselves that much more.”
Make sure you read her blog and stay in touch via social media!
Let the reprogramming begin!
Everyone prefers happiness over suffering, but it can be difficult to steer our emotions and moods toward a happier state. According to evolutionary psychologist, Dr. Paul Gilbert, we are burdened with a significant challenge he refers to as a “tricky brain!”
The Tricky Brain
Why tricky? In his captivating book, Mindful Compassion, Dr. Gilbert explains that our brains have been shaped by evolution, which is not the most intelligent designer. We could have a better brain if evolution were able to reorganize it (like rebuilding a software program from scratch), but evolution doesn’t work that way. It can only build newer brain functions on top of old, patching and extend things over time.
It makes sense that over millions of years, our brains have become somewhat unwieldy and unstable. The “old brain” continues reacting to jarring stimuli as if it were life-and-death, and a saber-tooth tiger was about to attack you from behind. Instead of the reality – you lost your keys and are about to be late for an important meeting.
The Two Brains Defined
It’s like we have two brains – old brain and new brain. The old brain runs emotions, which guide our motives (social and otherwise) to help us get what we need and depend on for survival. Old brain mechanisms, on the other hand, evolved functions that (for example) direct the body to deal with threats, take shelter, find food, and seek out a sexual partner.
In the last million years, our brains have evolved in profound ways. With a growing neocortex, we became able to think, reason, and plan, enabling us to cooperate and communicate. However, this new brain isn’t foolproof or even 100% advantageous. Because of these abilities for thought and self-awareness, we become burdened with habits of ruminating, comparing, self-criticism and judgment—coupled with emotional by-products like anxiety, vindictiveness or depression. Unlike other animals, humans can anticipate the possibility of starving to death or obsess on a fearful experience. As they say in 12-step meeting, “stinkin thinkin” can get us stuck in a loop until we find a way to intervene.
The Re-programming of the Tricky Brain
The two brains are linked and intertwined. The old brain can hijack the new brain, where all of its thinking and planning becomes enlisted by the survival fears of the old brain. Our thinking can become linked or looped into a stream of threat-fueled anxiety, anger, or worry.
As always, 80% of the solution lies in understanding the problem. We can have a better relationship with ourselves when we stop judging ourselves and develop compassion for ourselves. We need to accept the fact that our brains are replete with conflicting ideas, emotions, and desires. It’s tricky!
In “Mindful Compassion,” Dr. Gilbert teaches how to break self-destructive thinking cycles, reorganize the mind, and keep it on track for positive and constructive action. (My podcast talk with him is definitely worth a listen.)
For the sake of self-compassion—which, as Dr. Gilbert explains, is a healing balm for our suffering—it’s important to remember that your brain’s conflicted nature is not your fault! Likewise, we are not responsible for our family system or society. So, let’s have compassion for ourselves around those aspects, too! The great news is we can learn to rewire our tricky brain by combining the skill of mindfulness and the power of self-compassion.
Paul O’Brien left an executive position in high-tech to invent a new category of multimedia software in 1989, which evolved to eventually become the world’s largest astrology and divination website in 2003. He is the author of three books. Paul is a sought-after speaker, visionary, entrepreneur, author, and founder of the Divination Foundation.
Paul’s newest book Great Decisions, Perfect Timing: Cultivating Intuitive Intelligence (release Feb 2015) is an autobiographical, part how-to manual for intuitive decision-making and part holistic philosophy. (courtesy of Divination.com)
A bicycle fit for an amazing island adventure.
I signed up for a bike tour with a Canadian company, WowCuba, as I wanted to explore the countryside as well as the culture of Cuba, and I wanted to interact with people along the way. From experience, I know that biking around a country is the best way to see the country, talk to people, and experience a new culture. Slowing your travel to 10 mph (or less) forces you to hear, smell and even taste a place more intensely than you ever could on a bus or in a car.
My friend Jim and I flew to Varadero in Cuba – Varadero is Cuba’s resort center where more than 50 hotels offer activities along with a 20K stretch of beautiful beachfront laid out on a skinny peninsula.
Lots of Canadians and Europeans book all-inclusive vacations at the resorts so the airport has several gates and even duty-free shopping. On arrival, I was struck by how dark the airport was – electricity is expensive in Cuba so lighting is often minimal – and the fact that we were required to go through a metal detector to EXIT the airport. A friendly guard told Jim what they were looking for — routers and other computer equipment.
We arrived a day before we were to meet up with a group of 18 strangers for the week-long bike trip, so we had time to explore Varadero. We went for a quick swim at the beach across the street from our hotel. Since we were swimming in the Straits of Florida, and not the Caribbean, it wasn’t warm, but it was refreshing, and the water was the beautiful green you see at Caribbean beaches.
Before dinner, we went for a short walk to check out the “Casa de Ron” (House of Rum) and the neighboring house of cigars (my name). The tastings at the House of Rum engendered so much oohing and aahing on my part that the proprietor insisted I take a half-full bottle of one of the more exotic mixtures. Jim also bought a full bottle of rum for cocktails during the upcoming week and a few cigars. I splurged on a box of small “Cohibas” (supposedly Fidel’s favorite brand).
Even though all of our meals were included in the cost of our lodging at the Hotel Los Delfines, we opted to eat dinner at Restaurant Esquina Cuba which was recommended in our guidebook as a one-time favorite of Buena Vista Social Club luminary Compay Segundo. What a great introduction to Cuban dining – live music table-side at a restaurant open on three sides to the warm air. The fourth side of the restaurant was occupied by the frame of a car from the 1950’s.
We packed in one more sightseeing opportunity before departing Varadero, the Parque Josone, which are landscaped gardens owned by a wealthy rum baron whose mansion and property were expropriated after the Revolution. While the gardens were a bit listless, we were easily lured into a tidy green gazebo where the bartender offered to make us the best Pina Colada that we would have in Cuba. We didn’t have a better Pina Colada at any time during our stay.
In Varadero, I encountered my favorite form of transportation in Cuba – aside from biking. A “coconut” was a cab that fit two passengers in the small backseat of a retro-fitted motorcycle. It had a rounded top that made it look like a coconut. The driver wore a helmet – the passengers did not.
We opted for a more conventional cab ride back to the Varadero airport where we met one of the bike tour guides, Dayan, a Cuban living in Canada, and another participant who had arrived on the same flight we’d taken the day before. The four of us plus Dayan’s bike and all of our luggage piled into two other taxis and headed for Sancti Spiritus, the town where we would meet up with the rest of our group.
The first day of riding, we went about 40 miles on back roads around Sancti Spiritus where we saw fields of tobacco and sugar cane on either side of us. I loved that the few cars on the road gave a short “beep” when they were behind me – less of a honk for me to get out of the way and more of a polite message that they were going to pass me. We also saw lots of horse-drawn carts, other cyclists, and riders on horseback.
It was 90 degrees with a headwind so I was pretty beaten down by the end of the ride which concluded at our hotel in Sancti Spiritus.
Our comfy air-conditioned bus driven by the amiable Javier was always behind us as we rode. If we were tired or wanted to ride the bus rather than pedal, we were to pat our head as a signal for the bus to pull over. Although I never opted to ride on the bus, I was one of the slowest riders, so I asked that one of the three leaders on bikes stay at the back of the pack with me. That is how I got to know Nelson, our local guide provided by Havana tour.
Our hotel in Sancti Spiritus, the Don Florencio, was one of the best of the trip. We were located on a pedestrian-only avenue, two blocks from the main square. All of the rooms fronted on a charming three-story interior courtyard that oddly contained two in-ground Jacuzzis. On its second story, the courtyard was also home to a pack of loud and proud roosters who crowed not at dawn but at 2:30 a.m. the two days we stayed there.
Sancti Spiritus is a 500-year-old town that was founded in 1514 as one of Diego Velazquez’ seven original villas. It was beautified in 2014 to celebrate its 500th birthday.
Church in Sancti SpiritusIn the little time I had for sightseeing in Sancti Spiritus, I went inside the Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo, a beautiful blue church originally constructed of wood in 1522 and rebuilt in stone in 1680. It is said to be the oldest church in Cuba still standing on its original foundations.
My notes for the second day of riding say “much easier” in all caps and “tailwind.” Our 30-mile second-day ride ended at the 44M-high Manaca Iznaga tower near Trinidad. During the 1800’s, the slave owner Pedro Iznaga would watch his slaves in the sugar mills from this tower to make sure that they were working.
To enhance my bicycling journey, I asked Nelson to teach me some Spanish vocabulary. Fortuitously, that day, he taught me the word for “shrimp” which is “Camarones.” That night’s dinner at a lovely Palador, or privately owned restaurant, in Trinidad, we were offered Camarones on skewers.
Trinidad is a better-known version of Sancti Spiritus. It, too, is 500 years old and is known for its cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, many on the Plaza Mayor (main square). The town’s heyday was in the early 19th century when hundreds of French refugees fleeing a slave rebellion in Haiti arrived, setting up more than 50 small sugar mills in the nearby Valle de Los Ingenios. Soon, the area around Trinidad was producing a third of Cuba’s sugar. Most of the mills were destroyed during the War of Independence and the Spanish-Cuban-American War, and sugar-growing in Cuba shifted west. You can still see ruins of sugar mills in the area and there is even a tourist train that will take you through the Valle de Los Ingenios.
Our hotel for one night, the all-inclusive Brisas Trinidad del Mar, was 12K outside of Trinidad on a beautiful beach called the Playa Ancon.
Hills and a headwind greeted us as we rode out of the hotel the next morning. It was another hot day – near 90 degrees – and I barely made it to the end of the 30K ride. The scenery was beautiful, however, as we rode along the coastline in the province of Cienfuegos. The reward, aside from the views of the water, was the best lunch of the trip at a Palador near Guajimico. The restaurant was outside of the owners’ house and had a long table that was covered from the elements but opens on all sides to cool breezes. We had passed a shrimp farm near the end of the ride so it was no surprise that Camarones were on the menu along with lobster and fried white fish. My notes from the day are full of exclamation marks.
Our next hotel, the Pasacaballos, outside of the town of Cienfuegos was built by the Soviets to house workers from the nearby Juragua nuclear plant. This joint venture between Cuba and the Soviet Union folded when the Soviets pulled out of Cuba, but the dorm became a hotel that later served as a destination for loyal Soviet party members. The blocky structure’s bright colors reminded me of a Michael Graves construction. Its enormous salt-water swimming pool was a welcome relief after our hot day on the road. Dinner in town was in the Punta Gorda neighborhood of Cienfuegos which boasted the former homes of sugar barons that were confiscated during the revolution.
The next morning, we had a bit of time to explore Cienfuegos, so I took a look at the Teatro Tomas Terry. My guidebook refers to Tomas Terry as a Venezuelan industrialist, but Wikipedia describes him as a very wealthy slave trader who bought sick slaves and nursed them to health in order to trade them for profit. Cienfuegos didn’t try to whitewash its history, however. Terry’s name was front and center on the outside of the theater! The theater opened in 1895 and is still in use. The photographs of famous performers, including Alicia Alonzo, Enrico Caruso, and Anna Pavlova, were displayed in the lobby.
For lunch, we rode our bus to a man-made lake, the Embalse Hanabanilla, where we took a 20-person fast ferry to a delightful open-air restaurant. The surroundings were green and lush – quite a contrast to what we’d been seeing on the road. But this sojourn meant that our bike ride was in the afternoon, and by the time we started pedaling, it was HOT! We only rode 22 miles but I felt each and every one of those miles.
I perked up for dinner, however, which was at a terrific place called Finca del Mar. I indulged once again in lobster and had a Pina Colada that wasn’t as good as the one we had in Varadero.
Day five was exciting. It began with a completely flat ride to Caleta Buena, a sheltered cove near the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos) where you can go snorkeling and even scuba diving on some days. On the way, we passed banana trees and mango trees and a stretch of road where rice was drying on the shoulder.
The snorkeling was great – I saw my favorite black and blue neon fish. And the temperature of the water was perfect – refreshing but not freezing. There were beach chairs for us, changing rooms, and outdoor (cold) showers.
I was eager to get to Havana – since Jim and I had flown into Varadero we had not yet been to Havana. Our bus took us to the Hotel Sevilla where Al Capone once rented the entire sixth floor and Graham Greene used room 501 as a setting for his novel, Our Man in Havana. In the 1950’s, the Mafia requisitioned the Hotel Sevilla as the operations center for its prerevolutionary North American drug racket.We took pedicabs to that evening’s restaurant. The pedicab ride was so fun – imagine having biked for miles and then suddenly having someone carry you in a cart behind his bike!
Our destination, the Paladar San Cristobal, is the best restaurant in Havana, and it is where President Obama ate when he visited Havana a week after us.
I couldn’t get over how dark it was in Havana – no street lights and few lights on the ground floors of the buildings on either side of the narrow streets. After dinner, a few of us walked up the street from the Hotel Sevilla to see Cuba’s Capitolio which to my surprise was a copy of our U.S. Capitol.
Our final day of riding was challenging — bumpy and hilly — in the countryside outside of Havana. Mostly downhill, you had to ride your bike with both hands and lots of concentration to avoid the massive potholes and to stay upright over bone-jarring jolts. I was surprised no one crashed.
Our endpoint was the small town of Guanabo which boasted an excellent privately-run pizzeria called El Piccolo. That afternoon, Nelson offered a walking tour of Havana which turned into more of a shopping tour along Obispo Boulevard where he showed four of us where to get the best and cheapest cigars and rum in Havana. I also picked up three colorful movie posters at the Plaza Des Armes. We had a terrific last dinner in Mantilla at El Divino, a private restaurant with a spectacular wine cellar full of collectibles.
The group trip ended the next day, Sunday. I spent the morning visiting the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which displays the artwork of well-known Cubans such as Wifredo Lam.
Jim and I took a quick cab ride to the bed and breakfast where we’d be staying for the next two days. The Café Bohemia was on the Plaza Vieja in old Havana. Quite a switch from the Hotel Seville, it had two boutique apartments and one en-suite bedroom. The food was great at the Café Bohemia – we had one dinner there where we saw more lettuce than we had during the entire trip. Breakfasts were hearty with fresh bread – something else that we hadn’t seen all week.
One evening, we took a coconut taxi to the Hotel Nacionale and sipped mojitos as we looked out on Havana Harbor. The Hotel Nacionale is infamous for many reasons, including that in 1946, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano hosted the largest-ever meeting of the North American Mafia at the Hotel Nacionale.
On the last day, I spent the morning wandering the streets of Old Havana and watching people making their way to their morning obligations. I joined Jim for the afternoon where we visited the studios of four artists, Raul Castro (no relation to THE Raul Castro) or “Mamo,” Ibrahim Miranda, Beatriz Santacana, and Eduardo Janis. Our tour was “curated” by Sussette Martinez. She chose well. The artists were completely different in media, tone, and intent. Jim and I agreed that that afternoon was one of our most enjoyable of the trip as we spoke with the artists and Sussette about the Cuban government’s support and treatment of artists.
The next morning was our last, and our landlady at the Café Bohemia secured a taxi for us to get to the Varadero airport. Our taxi provided us with the perfect way to exit Cuba – it was a black 1953 Chevy that had been a police car. The owner/driver was fixing it up himself and what it lacked in amenities like air conditioning and seat belts it more than made up for in charm and a smooth ride.
I loved this experience more than I ever expected to. I loved the people, the countryside, the towns and cities, and I was happily surprised by how welcomed I felt by everyone I encountered.
(This article was originally published in October 2016.)
Sharon Gang is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. Prior to her current career, Sharon worked on Capitol Hill in a variety of capacities for several different members of Congress, and also worked as a press secretary to Washington, DC Mayor, Anthony A. Williams.
Hurry up and slow down – you won’t regret it.
Istanbulites have it. Parisians have it. So do Florentines and Cariocas. I’ve also seen it along the dusty streets of Cairo and in London’s East End lanes. It is a phenomenon I find most often when I’m on vacation in a foreign city, but it also occurs in cities domestic. I call it slow life. And I’m trying to perfect it.
Here’s the thing: when I’m in full-on tourist mode, I can turn into a bit of a tourbot. The worst kind, too: a tourbot without an off switch. I rush from site to site, attraction to attraction, trying to take in as much of the city as I possibly can in the time allotted. Even though I know deep down it’s a race I’ll never win, I still tell myself to press forward, to keep seeing and doing and seeing and doing. But while I’m tourbotting, the city’s inhabitants (and some far wiser travelers than I) are indulging in the slow life. All around me, slow lifers lounge in outdoor cafes, relax in parks, and stroll the streets, seemingly in no hurry at all. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is either since slow life weekdays and weekends are indistinguishable from each other. I find myself thinking, Don’t these people have jobs or somewhere more important to be right now? But the truth is, I’m envious of their what’s-the-big-hurry vibe, and of how effortless they make it look, this ability to move at the pace of a tortoise in a world filled with hares.
Eventually—although it sometimes takes a few days to kick in—slow life begins to wear off on me. I remember that I’m on vacation, and what’s a vacation after all, but the act of temporarily vacating one’s usual life? I remind myself that I move fast enough at home and it’s time to slow down, time to turn into one of them.
A slow lifer.
Once I locate my own off switch, I’m able to spend the rest of my vacation doing as slow lifers do—whether it’s sitting for hours in a sidewalk cafe watching tourbots rush by or wandering through an old bookstore instead of another crowded museum.
And then. Just as I’ve gotten the hang of slow life, the airline is assaulting me with emails to check in for my flight. Is it time to go already? But I have more cafés to visit, more tea to sip, more meandering to do!
Resentful and melancholy on the flight (and desperately wishing the Boeing were a time machine instead of a plane), I return home. Once there, it’s not merely the jet lag that makes me operate at half-speed, it’s also my attempt to keep to the routine of slow life. More than a magnet or T-shirt, slow life is a souvenir worth hanging on to.
Over the years, I’ve devised strategies to keep slow life within reach. For me, slow life is a “vacation” I can take any time I want, without really going anywhere at all. It’s a way of life I can slip into at will, especially when my world starts moving at a pace I’m not interested in matching.
Need help becoming a slow lifer? Here are 10 ways to get started.
- View the world as your own personal promenade.
Good ole’ Tom and Jerry a.k.a. Right Foot, Left Foot. They’ve never once let me down. Next to the scooting and crawling we did as infants, walking is the slowest mode of transportation we have. And it’s one of the best ways to slow life. When I travel, I usually eschew public transportation in favor of walking. It’s less hectic than navigating traffic, I can control my pace, and frankly, I just see more that way. Even though I don’t live in the most pedestrian of cities, I walk as much as possible when I’m at home, too.
I never leave home without a book. Knowing I have a book or magazine on hand encourages me to take advantage of impromptu breaks during busy days. I love being able to catch up on light reading if I’m early for lunch with a friend or if I’m having a solo lunch or coffee (see #5). Having reading material at the ready will give you a little mind retreat to look forward to and it will slow you right on down.
- Become regular.
I’m a barfly and proud of it. Nothing slows down life like a familiar seat in a favorite bar or restaurant. I’m a regular at certain establishments because the staff knows what I want and how I like it. I seldom have to wait, and unless I’m feeling chatty, they know to leave me be, especially if I have my laptop with me. I like to pop in just as lunch hour is wrapping up when it’s quiet enough to enjoy a late lunch or adult beverage as I read or write. On the days I don’t plan ahead by bringing my laptop, I journal (I always have a notebook in my handbag, although my iPhone notepad function works equally well). Even when I’m working, slow life creeps in. There’s something about imbibing during the day that makes you feel like you’re on vacation, but this method also works just as well at coffee houses. It’s the regularity that counts.
- Just park it.
I love parks. I’m lucky enough to have two within walking distance of my house and I visit them often. When I travel, parks are where I slow life most. My husband and I once ate croissants then dozed on a park bench in Paris. It was one of the best slow life experiences I’ve ever had.
- Enjoy being a party of one.
My favorite dining companion never chooses a bad restaurant, she doesn’t keep me waiting, and she’s always ready to order when I am. She also doesn’t mind if I ignore her completely to read or journal and she lets me eat off her plate. We’re so in tune with each other, we can hold a conversation without uttering a single word. And the best part is, she even picks up the bill! Don’t tell my husband, but I’d say a lunch or dinner date doesn’t get better than that.
Dining alone every now and then is one of my favorite ways to slow life. Sure, a pleasant meal with good company is lovely, but sometimes silence is its own reward. How many of us have dined out with friends and thought to ourselves later how quickly the time flew by? That’s how it goes. But when I dine alone, with no one to distract me from the sensory experience of the food or from my own thoughts, a meal that could have gone by too fast with others at the table becomes one I can truly savor and even linger over if I want. Casual establishment or fine, the company is what matters. And when that company is you, how can you go wrong?
- Speaking of dining, do it al fresco.
Plein air dining is the best kind of dining, weather permitting. I am also a strong proponent of picnics. Slow life is all about watching the world go by and you can’t do that unless you’ve got a front-row seat.
- Silence. Your. Phone.
Better yet, turn it off. Life changing. Slow life changing.
- Don’t drive when you can cycle.
Another way I slow life is by using my bike for short trips that it used to be second nature for me to take in my car. I’ve found that riding my bicycle gets me there almost as quickly as driving and without the headache of finding a parking space or negotiating the roads with other drivers. I feel more present in the world from the seat of my bike. I pay more attention to my surroundings because I’m moving slower. And there’s nothing like a breeze on your face.
Two of the only things we’re promised each day are a sunrise and a sunset. I try to make sure I’m there for at least one of them. And the beauty is, the sun rises and sets at its own pace. You have no choice but to slow down if you really want to appreciate it.
- Just breathe.
Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. When I’m moving too fast or in the middle of an intense writing session, I often catch myself holding my breath. In fact, I’ve caught myself doing it a number of times while composing this article. But breathing is so much more than the process of moving air into and out of our lungs. By controlling and regulating our breathing, we can self-soothe, lower stress, bring about clarity, and of course, slow ourselves way down. It’s a bodily function too easily taken for granted.
Cultivating my version of the slow life has required lots of practice and a hyper-awareness of myself as a person who needs to slow down in the first place. As a result, I’m more cognizant of when I’m speeding up and I can tell myself to brake. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes it even takes looking at pictures from past vacations to remind me of what it is I’m trying to obtain. Slow life is about more than relaxation; it’s also about being present in life’s finite moments.
So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and slow down.
(This article was originally published in November 2016.)
Joi Maria is a Texas-based short fiction writer and personal essayist. She is a co-founder of Write Inside the Loop, a critique group for new and emerging writers in the Houston area. Find her blog, The Joi of Writing, at joimaria.com.
Going to Jamaica is always a good idea. The Royalton White Sands makes it a great one.
It was my wife’s birthday. And, she loves beaches. Correction – she loves nice beaches. The sand must be powder-soft with no (or, a very minimal) number of rocks (especially, the large ones). The water must be clear and aqua-blue, with acceptable levels of seaweed. I have learned not to disagree with her about these specifications – mainly because she is spot on. When taking a vacation to have “fun in the sun,” the beach is one (if not, the most) important aspect. A fabulous hotel on the beach means nothing if the beach is crap.
For her special day, we decided to go back to her home country of Jamaica; specifically, the city of Montego Bay. It seemed to be the perfect choice as it is only a little over 3 ½ hours from most departure cities on the east coast of the United States. And, since Jamaica is on Eastern Time, it is a perfect destination for weekend trips (or, vacations under seven days in length).
After doing some extensive searches, we found and booked the Royalton White Sands Resort and Spa, Montego Bay. Formally, Breezes Trelawny, Royalton White Sands offers an all-inclusive experience, which centers about providing full-service with attention to detail. With unlimited à la carte dining, signature handcrafted Dreambeds©, All-In Connectivity, and entertainment for guests of all ages, we were looking forward to an excellent week of pleasure and relaxation.
The hotel and grounds were beautiful and modern. While the walk to our room (on the top floor) was a little long, the view was delightful. The surrounding area was full of trees and other foliage. Our room was well appointed and comfortable. We had a balcony with a lovely view of the hotel resort. It was a welcome pleasure each morning with a delicious cup of strong coffee or tea.
If you are looking for quality service and beaches, the Royalton White Sands is a place for you. We optioned for the Diamond Club accommodations; and, we were not disappointed. As noted on their website, “this premium level of service features the comfort of anticipatory service, exclusive á la carte restaurants, and bar areas, as well as the shimmering pool and pristine beach areas for the sole use of Diamond Club™ guests. Highly-trained butlers help fulfill your every request, including dinner reservations and the organizing of special occasions.”
This level of service was a real treat. The attention-to-detail and quality by our butlers, Ardley and Kamal, was truly exceptional. For example, as a particular delight for my wife, I wanted fresh flowers and champagne in our room every evening. It was there. I wanted our bed decorated each day. Done. I wanted fresh coffee, juice, and fruit each morning. Done.
This service wasn’t limited to our room. While the beach for regular guests was great, the private beach for Diamond Club guests was fantastic. There were plenty of comfortable, airy cabanas (exclusive to this part of the beach). And, butler service was always available for extra pampering. All you needed to do was relax and enjoy yourself. Perfection.
In addition to the beaches, the Royalton has several beautifully appointed pools. There are three different ones, with two separated by a walk-through bridge. There is also a water park for the kids. Royalton did an excellent job of making sure that these areas were designed to provide spaces for families, couples, or even, singles, to enjoy.
There were also plenty of activities for everyone. These included beach volleyball, ping pong, cooking classes, dance classes, trivia games, aquatic Olympic competitions, aerobics classes, and weight-training with professional instruction. Additionally, there were (of course) water sports – snorkeling, paddle boats, sail boats, and other equipment and activities were readily available.
The food at the Royalton White Sand, while good and full of variety, wasn’t memorable, unfortunately. The regular buffet, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has many different selections, including Jamaican dishes. During our stay in October, there were four different restaurants onsite – Zen, a Japanese-inspired teppanyaki; Grazie Italian Trattoria, a traditional experience; and, Hunter Steakhouse, an authentic steakhouse serving prime cuts of beef. For fun and quick fare in a casual setting, there is Score Bar and Lounge, a pub and grill serving a variety of grilled specialties to comfort foods. Coffee drinkers will appreciate the Caffe Lounge and Passiterie, which offers espressos and cappuccinos to taste. Please note that due to a recent renovation, the Royalton White Sands has added seven new restaurants, including a Tex-Mex eatery, Asian-fusion, and Caribbean selections for your stay.
In total, the Royalton White Sands was a great stay for our getaway. It has comfortable rooms, outstanding service, and lovely beaches – just what we were looking for in a hotel-resort. The Royalton is a definitely a place to choose for a quick holiday, especially if you need some “fun in the sun.”
A few tips for traveling to/from Jamaica:
- Use the Internet! There are always fantastic deals through travel website which specifically target Caribbean travel.
- For airport transfers, always book your transportation BEFORE you arrive at the airport. Typically, you can get a better deal with more amenities. Sometimes, booking online for round-trip transfers is cheaper than a single transfer at the hotel.
- For point-to-point travel, book a driver at the hotel for a day. The cost is reasonable; and, these drivers know all the “hot spots” to see and do.
- Don’t forget to get off the resort! While resorts offer many amenities, there is nothing like experiencing all the island’s offerings. Enjoying the sites will make for a more enjoyable and memorable experience.
(This article was originally published in April 2017.)
Brian Westley Johnson is the managing editor-in-chief of Soulivity Magazine, an online magazine-journal which reaches over 150K people monthly across the globe. For over 25 years, Brian has spent his life traveling the world as a business development professional using his skills and demonstrable expertise in sales and marketing strategy and execution to assist enterprising medium and large organizations in achieving growth targets. Now, he has dedicated his life to a new mission – to support everyone in living their highest quality life with passion, purpose, and joy.
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A little planning can go a long way in creating a wonderful family vacation.
One of the questions we get asked the most about our travels is “How do you decide where to travel next?” It sounds rather straightforward but in all actuality, it can be rather complicated as many factors contribute to the decision. We can’t go everywhere (though we wish we could), and we can’t be everywhere all at once so here are five considerations that influence us when we are deciding What family vacations to go on next!
1.ASK YOUR TRAVELERS AND MAKE A LIST
Ask! With so many active and passionate travelers in our family and so many places to go, a poll or a vote is always a great place to start. I usually ask each person to make a list of their top 5 domestic destinations and their top 5 international destinations. We then make a “dream destination” list and display it in a prominent location (for many years it was just inside the pantry door). Then we begin working toward traveling to the most popular destinations on the list. The list gets updated every so often as our family grows and we learn about new places. This process helps us prioritize our future travel destinations and helps us narrow down (the very long list) of places we all want to go. In short- it keeps us focused:)
2. YOUR BUDGET
Finances! This is probably the biggest factor in deciding where (and when) to travel. We have learned to balance pricier trips with more budget-friendly ones. This is key! When we splurge on a particular trip, the following trips are much more inexpensive. Every budget is different but regardless, the budget must be balanced.
3. TIMING AND INTENSITY OF THE TRIP
Considering the intensity of a particular trip is key. Factors such as distance, jet-lag, language barriers, and the activity level of a trip must be considered. We once followed a nearly 3-week history and sightseeing heavy trip to Spain, with a 10 day trip to our country’s capital; Washington DC. By the time we arrived in Washington DC, we were way too tired and burned out to be able to enjoy all of the magnificent sites there. In retrospect, we should have planned much more time in-between the two trips OR followed our Spain trip with something a lot less intense and saved travel to Washington DC for another time. We have learned to balance the intensity of our trips a bit more since then:) If there isn’t a balance, things quickly become a chore instead of something to be enjoyed.
Another pointer- When traveling a long distance and across many time zones, we recommend spending at least 10 days (preferably 2 weeks) in any given destination.
4. WHO’S IN?
It used to be a lot easier to know who was in and who wasn’t. Now, with our family growing and changing all of the time, everyone is in a different phase of life and it is becoming increasingly difficult to have everyone there all of the time. It makes me sad, but it is the reality. I have accepted the fact that not everyone will travel all of the time.
That said, we often do plan around schedules and plan around when we can get the most people to come. Sometimes that means holding off on a certain destination until more of the family can come. For example- Thailand has been near the top of the list for a handful of years but because of conflicting schedules, it isn’t until now that we have concrete plans for a family trip to Thailand. If everyone has a strong desire to travel to a certain destination we will often hold off travel until everyone can come.
On the other hand, sometimes certain family members have NO desire to visit a particular destination. This was the case for China. The kids and I had been so excited to travel to China and experience the culture, learn the history and see the sites we had only dreamed about. My husband Phil however, did not share our enthusiasm (at all). We tried to talk him into it but really he just didn’t want to come. In the end, we traveled without him and it worked out all the way around.
5. THE WEATHER
Weather is critical. Is it worth it to travel off-time or off-season? In our experience, there isn’t a hard and fast rule, it depends on the destination. We often travel in peak season, but there are places we REALLY try to avoid during peak season (ie: anything Disney). While rates can be cheaper in offseason we prefer to travel when the weather is at its best and the activities are in full swing. For example, who wants to spend a beach vacation cooped up indoors because the weather is horrible? NO ONE. Remember each destination is different do your homework when the best time is to go. Shoulder season is often a favorite of ours.
When we traveled offseason once to Costa Rica
We once traveled to Costa Rica in April, the tail end of the dry season. The green tropical jungles that I had remembered from a previous trip were brown and shriveled. It wasn’t even the same place. It is always hot in Costa Rica but at the end of April, it was HOTTER! Costa Rica was completely different in the dry season than in the wet. We quickly resolved as a family to return to Costa Rica during the season when it was green and verdant. We wanted to see the lush landscaping Costa Rica is so famous for. Do your homework and find out the best time to visit a particular destination. Peak season can be busier and pricier but sometimes preferable to offseason.
These are some of the factors that should always be considered when you are trying to figure out what places in the world to visit! Sometimes it can be an adventure even figuring out where and when to go! It is worth the effort and for us, planning is half of the fun! Speaking of planning trips if you are getting ready to plan a trip be sure to check out our 10 Tips for Family Trip Planning
What do you do when figuring out where you want to go next? Do you have a dream destination board like we do? As always share your tips with us and what works for you!
Our Family Passport
(Shani, Kam, & Sav)
Meet the Smiths! We are an average family living in a crazy busy world, trying to juggle work, school, and family responsibilities. As a multi-generational family, we are always growing and changing. We have found that traveling all together with our family of eight (from the Grandparents on down to the little Grandbaby) provides a “time-out” where we can reconnect with the ones we love the most, without daily interruptions or distractions. We have been to six continents and over 40 countries together! Our family adventures are tremendously educational, and most of all, fun! It is our goal to encourage other families to take breaks together and go explore our amazing world!
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Vacation with your loved one..in peace and joy.
Vacations for most couples can either be fantastic or a disaster. What’s worse is most of us have no idea why it happens or what do, if your past getaways have been less than ideal.
We’d like to start by sharing a personal story:
Many years ago, we decided to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary by taking a two-week vacation to the islands of Hawaii—one week on Maui and another on Kauai. Because we had never been on a vacation that for that long for that far, we were excited with dreams of a beautiful, romantic, tropical experience that would help “pick up” our relationship.
After weeks of expectation, finally, it was time to leave for Hawaii. After picking up a rental car at the Maui airport, we proceeded driving to our reserved condo right on the Maui beach. While in route, we had a huge argument (to this day, we can’t even remember what it was about). While we were driving through a vast and desolate pineapple field (that went for miles), Melva demanded the car be stopped so that she could be let her out. We stopped, and she got out. After a few minutes, she calmed down enough to get back in the car, and we proceeded to our condo.
After arriving at the condo, we sat down together. And, by using some communication tools we had learned, we were able to work things out to the extent that we had a wonderful vacation.
But what if we had not learned how to communicate our differences effectively? It’s likely that we would have spent a painful, miserable two weeks, desperate to get back home. The key to making the “shift” was the ability to talk things out in a way that created a win-win outcome for both.
Why is it that some couples have wonderful vacations and others don’t?
Just about every couple wants a great vacation, and many do. However, fewer couples do not achieve the kind of satisfaction that they desire when on holiday together. An important reason their desires do not meet their expectations is: they don’t share their vision each other about what they’d like to experience on their vacation before they leave.
Three Tips To A Better Vacation
- Make and follow a plan. Each person shares what they are looking forward to on our vacation; then, create an itinerary that allows time for each person to experience those things. For example, it is common one partner wants to rest and relax while the other may want to go sightseeing. Resolving these differences can be accomplished if you discuss them well in advance.
- Use the “couple’s dialogue” to communicate and work through any conflicts. And, continue the process until you can arrive at an agreement that is comfortable for both of you.
- Develop an “action plan” that both of you will use to support each other’s vision for your “dream vacation.”
For more tips, visit us at www.jesseandmelva.com for more information that will support becoming a better person and partner.
To Your Relationship Success,
Melva and Jesse
As Marriage/Couples/Relationship Coaches & Counselors, Jesse and Melva Johnson, are committed to supporting healthy relationships. They have over 60+ years of combined experience as psychotherapists, relationship educators, workshop leaders, public speakers, authors, and consultants. They have also appeared on local and national radio and television shows and in numerous print media.
Learn more about them by visiting their website, www.jesseandmelva.com