Old Havana

January 16, 2015

" Havana is very much like a rose: it has petals, and it has thorns... So it depends on how you grab it, but in the end, it always grabs you..." (The Lost City)

Life here seems simple and slower. Everything operates in slow living mode. Carsnew and mostly relics from the pastalongside cycle-rickshaws, coco-taxis and horse carriages move at a leisurely pace creating a traffic-free city. Colourful cloths lines that decorate every wrought-iron balcony slowly swing on a gentle, almost undetectable warm breeze. Street dogs wander around the narrow cobblestone streets. In the middle of the Plaza Vieja, kids play baseball. Smell of rich coffee and freshly lit cigars engage the senses and awaken the free bohemian spirit. Live music, an essential ingredient to life, comes from every corner and bar; the signature tune of Chan Chan are slowly penetration the air giving rise to nostalgia and joy at the same time.

Out of the rooftop terrace of Ambos Mundos Hotel, home to Hemingway for seven years in the 30s, one can witness the Atlantic's waves crashing slowly against the seawalls while separating the island from the world by water and not only. Colonial buildings, most of them newly renovated (since my last visit, seven years ago), other still timeworn, faded in colour, speak of a past that was much more grandeur and vibrant. Wooden doors are open right out into the street and envelop a slice of life somehow different from what we know.

Life happens on the street here and people are watching. Whether from a vantage point of a doorstep, or a bench, or while waiting in a queue, but mostly from their balconies, people observe the world passing by their eyes. There is no hurry here (literally, Cubans operate in a different time frame from the one we are used to"Cuban time"). There is just life unfolding the way it is supposed to unfold and readiness of embracing it with an opulent joy. There is a presence of calmness and an absence of time that makes Havana pules with different energy and liveliness. There is this undefined flavour to the citycharisma, romance, beauty, charming classic cars and endless sunshine that makes you forget this is still a country that remains a bastion of communism and central planning, with different economic, social and cultural life. Despite the free education and the universal health care, Cubans face poverty and day-to-day problemswage levels, double-currency system, shortage of basic goods, lack of transportation, limited access to information and Internet (beneficial to us as tourists), restriction for traveling and assembly, est.

But, there is also a tangible sense of change and hope for transformation impossible to be overlooked this time. "Cuba is changing", "We want change", we were told by the locals we met. In fact, a recent law allows more citizens to run their own businesses, and properties in the historic quarter now available to rent from the state creates a new wave of self-employment. I believe Cuban people deserve better choices: yet, I know from experience that social and economical changes take time and will happen slowly as everything here on this geographical location.
The big challenge, however, would be balancing modernization and preservation of authenticity and richness of Cuban life beyond money and possessions.

The slow pace of life, the captivating colours that burst the artistic souls, the tremendous beauty and charm in things that many would argue to be the opposite, the unspoiled nature and these people who are vibrant, filled with vitality and contagious zest for life, I hope will always stay the same.    


Dear friends, Happy New Year!
It gives you an opportunity to fill those fresh 365 days with whatever your hearts desire. May 2015 be the most exciting ever. I feel grateful and blessed for mine starting with this wonderful trip to one of the most fascinating places in the world. 


December 17, 2014

 Seven days to Christmas! 
And even though we have not put up our Christmas tree yet, (yes, I know), I am full of Christmas spirit. As I am writing this note, the very talented trumpeter Chris Botti is bringing about a peaceful emotion of deep contentment to the heart with his jazzy tracks of Christmas comfort and joy. The smell of orange and cinnamon from the quietly simmering apple cider in the kitchen is filling the entire home with Christmas. A chocolate truffle is melting into a puddle of goodness in the middle of my mouth...  

December so far has brought some beautiful moments in life!
It started with a doorbell ring of the mailman delivering a complimentary copy of the winter issue of Bella Grace Magazine. This volume is truly inspiring and I am happy to be a part of it again, thanks to Stampington & Company. If you haven't read it yet, I think you lost an opportunity to enrich your soul with beautiful images and thought-provoking narratives. This publication makes a wonderful holiday gift to someone who enjoys the magic of ordinary things.

I visited Irene in the nursing home. She is an ill, immobile, eighty year old woman I am glad to know by a dear friend of mine who volunteers in the institution. Irene moved to Canada from England as a young nurse; she is single and doesn't have any relatives around. I enjoy the time I spend with her. She has such a strong spirit and, of course, that typical British sense of humour that inspires me and teaches me how to gracefully meet my own life's adversities and hardships. With her polished nails in pink, bright blue eyes and infectious smile, she is an epitome of a human being who ages as a cathedral. She reminds me of my grandma who lives an ocean away...

December also held that delightful afternoon I spent at the wreath making gathering hosted by the lovely Aviva and Jessica from Sweet Gale Gardens. Both girls created a cozy atmosphere in Aviva's house where under the tunes of A Charlie Brown Christmas, together with fellow local flower lovers, I crafted a dried flower wreath that adorns the living room. Sweet Gale Gardens is a small, urban farm in the heart of Toronto focused on sustainably grown cut flowers.  

Then came the snow - new, soft, and clean- it coveted the city for one night. The delicate beauty of a fresh untouched snow brings back a little bit of the magic we all felt as children. Sometimes such snowfall is all you need to get into the holiday spirit, it gets your bones excited about everything the season brings: like the last sequential date for this century... which happened to be my birthday. I was blessed with one truly special day-from the amazing gingerbread heart cookies my 3-year-old nephew decorated especially for me, through the cakes my sister and my mom made to celebrate the occasion, the thoughtful gift my son chose for me, "The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth Gilbert to the unforgetable dinner with friends at one of my favourite restaurants, love was tangible and I am immensely thankful!

Today, December with its gloomy sky and the peaceful calm of its mist finally put me in a baking sort of mood. I opened an old recipe journal, but instead of the traditional snowball cookies that kick off the Holiday baking every year, I decided to embrace a new "adventure" and try something different. I rarely make bonbons, much less for Christmas, so I grabbed the idea of no-bake truffles and tried to incorporate what I found in the pantry. Chocolate, cocoa powder, chopped almond and shredded coconut, rolled into not so perfect walnut-sized balls by my humble hands. I put the candies in old glasses, covered the top with fabric and tied it with hemp yarn. I wrote the recipe on a tag and my giving gifts were ready! (find the recipe here).

There is joy, heart lifted in kindness, humility and wonder. There is beauty, love and generosity. There's a tingly Christmassy feeling in the air. And there will be more - December is not even at its end.
And if you haven't brought some of the old-fashioned holiday spirit into your life, my simple list of how to be full of it goes pretty much like this:

* Return your holiday books to the shelves and read the classic Christmas stories and poems.
* Listen to Christmas music and sing out loud the lyrics. 
* Send out Holiday cards with handwritten messages. 
* Join up with family and friends (call relatives long-distance, host a dinner)
* Make a wreath and hang it somewhere in your house (find a holiday workshop and take part).
* Cut down your own Christmas tree and decorate it with handmade or vintage ornaments. Breathe in the smell of real evergreen. 
* Decorate your home if you feel like doing it; if not- the simple prettiness of a single pine branch in a vintage bottle would be enough.  
* Watch some great Christmas movies while sipping hot chocolate or mulled wine. 
* Stare into a cracking fire so it warms your eyes and heart. 
* Prepare and give homemade/edible gifts. 
* Donate some of your time to those in need.
* Simmer potpourri of orange, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla to make your home smell warm and cozy.
* Bake cookies, scones, pies, shtolen, bread, fruit cakes and all sort of holiday recipes, old & new. 
* If there is snowfall, take a walk into the woods, make snow angels.
* Watch your dog enjoy the mounds of snow. 
* Go family skating.  
* Visit Christmas Markets - those European type of markets where Christmas renews itself by reaching into forgotten childhood memories. 
* Do a tradition that you might have. If you do not have a tradition, this year is the time to make one.
* Be a great example of enthusiasm and love to your children. 
* Be present and pay attention to miracles.
* Create your own miracle. 

Marry Christmas to you and yours! 

Sharing with Home Sweet Home

Calm During the Storm

November 27, 2014

The first big snowfall of the season come and so with it the Santa Claus parade welcomed the nice old man in town. The local radio station immediately switched to its Christmas music playlist, gently reminding me what Bing Crosby (and I) is dreaming about. The neighbours already have their Christmas lights lit and flyers for Holiday deals and magazines full of magical scenes of happy families and perfect Christmas sets clutter the letterbox every day. The cranberry bliss bars and snowman cookies are smiling at me through the Starbucks window while the stores are packed with Christmas decor since the day after Halloween. Bloggers are eagerly sharing Christmas crafts and recipes and my email box will soon explode from offers for Holiday events happening all over the country...   
In other words, the Holiday Hustle is officially under way and whether we are ready or not, Christmas is coming. 
It is, in fact, my favourite time of the year, "the most wonderful time of the year, the hap-happiest season of all..." And it's not because of all the above mentioned reasons which are more likely to cause me stress and strive for the best table setting, the best dinner, the best gifts... a la Martha Stuart sort of celebration. No! I love this time of year because despite the general consumerism and corporate pressure to "buy" the perfect Christmas, I know that the Holiday season is all about giving, being with loved ones, helping the less fortunate, sharing love, warmth, big hugs, family time, cozy company right when we need it most. I love this time of year because it makes me take a deep breath, brew a cup of my favourite coffee, slow down and pay attention to what brings me joy and what matters most in my life. I don't always have a plan. But I don't always need one. Sometimes I just need to breath, trust and stop obsessing over doing it all and falling pray to perfectionism, comparison, hectic pace, shopping madness. Whatever I get done will be more than enough. Yes, I will bake the most delicious Christmas cookies, I will weave the most beautiful Christmas wreath, I will write the most heartwarming messages on the Christmas cards, I will cook for my friends and family and set a beautiful Christmas table, I will speak hours on the phone with my mom, sister and little nephew on the other side of the globe, I will visit Irene (who doesn't have a family) in the retirement home, I will attend parties and Christmas markets, I will read and sing carols...
But I am clearly doing that out of a desire for genuine connection with myself and others rather then to look good or out of the sense of obligation. Holiday seasons should give us great breaks and great times. It should be filled with simple quiet moments and little chances to unwind, relax and communicate our core values. We need to focus our energy on enjoying the people in our lives and feasting on each other's touch and treasured thoughts. We may beautifully wrap the gift of kindness, faith, forgiveness, hope and gratitude and gift ourselves with it before giving it to others...
After all, I might actually have plan to help me celebrate this holiday season. I might even have a list to follow this Christmas. Perhaps these "items" I can keep on my list all year long.

There is freedom and calm in simplicity.
And there is calm during the storm.  

Thank you to all of you who commented on my Christmas Cards here on the blog and on my Facebook Page. Thank you to all of you who share my Etsy shop with your friends and readers. Your support is greatly appreciated.
A set of five of my cards is ready to be sent to Jane from Blondie's Journal as she is the winner of the giveaway.

Sharing with What's It WednesdayHome Sweet HomeSay G'Day

Letters Mingle Souls (a giveaway)

November 18, 2014

All of us at some point in our lives have experienced the joy of stumbling upon a vintage shoebox of old postcards, letters and notes. I don't think anyone can deny there is something magical and special going through a well-crafted handwritten message, salutation or love letter that instantly reveals the personality of the sender not only by his or her cursive script, mistakes, scrabbles, but also by his or her choice of words, choice of subject, choice of card. All of them - forgotten or unknown relatives, old friends and romantic souls - are like characters of a book, a novel, ready to be published and shared with the world. In fact, one of my all time favourite books is a lovely, heartwarming novel written as a series of letters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. If you haven't read it yet, treat yourself to this book. 
As I have mentioned multiple times already, I am a firm believer in the importance of hand-written cards and letters. It is a life wisdom to invest time and effort to select and buy a thoughtful card, to pick up a pen and express yourself on the paper, to sign the card "Someone who thinks you are very special" and to go to the post office to adorn the envelop with a postage stamp and then to send it to fly. It all requires a certain discipline, a sense of caring for others and a kind of mindset that my aunt, who loves to write cards and still does, possesses. I used to do that for many years. However, I am guilty for falling into the trap of writing not so personal Birthday wishes on my friends' Facebook timelines and quick thank you e-mails on my computer. I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter to someone... Yes, I still send cards for Christmas, but I think-that's it. And it makes me worried about the decline of letters and notes crafted by hand rather then keyboards buttons; about the vanishing of those shoeboxes filled with hand-written memories and legacy of ancestors. I love the efficiency of emails and texts, but we all know they lack the personality and intimacy that only handwriting can create. We've somehow given up beauty for speed and artistry for efficiency. I know cards might be expensive, but we can't measure with money the excitement and the warmth that goes throughout our bodies once we find an envelop with special unique handwriting on it among bills and flyers in our letterbox. Then going inside, while sipping hot coffee, we open the envelop and immerse ourselves in the feel of the paper and the soul of the writer...    

"A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, and a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping".
Catherine Field

After sharing my Holiday cards last Christmas here, on the blog, I received a lot of asking and suggestions to make them available for purchase online. So, the last couple of weeks, I have been finally working on putting together an Etsy shop where I can offer a selection of cards that feature my original photos. The shop is called SylviaSimpleLife, of course, and for now I am listing  36 different Holiday Cards printed in Canada. All images are carefully selected in order to convey a message of a simple and handmade Holiday season. They are blank on the inside as I wish it's going to encourage the sender to skip the generic Holiday greetings and hand write more personal and special sentiment to family, friends and perhaps strangers.

I am inviting you to celebrate with me as I am giving away a set of 5 cards of your choice. 

1. Visit  SylviaSimpleLife Shop and click on the little heart on the top of the card you like. 

2. You can also favourite  SylviaSimpleLife Shop  and share with me your favourite cards. Each card has a title which I have tried to keep short and simple. 

3. You have more chances to win when you share my shop or this post on your social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterst, etc.) and let me know in the comment section below. 

The giveaway is open worldwide and I will announce the winner on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I sincerely hope you like the cards and choose them when you send a little handwritten joy someone's way this Holiday season. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support!

Sharing with The Homemaking Party


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