The Cuban Five: Rediscovering Cuba

This year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It all started with one question my grandmother asked, “Will you go to Cuba with me?”

Ready for Cuba!

Ready for Cuba!

My grandmother is basically Wonder Woman. She has been to all seven continents and wrote two books about it. The first one, Around the World in the Middle Seat talks about her many adventures as a group travel leader and the second one, Seven Before Seventy, is about reaching her goal of traveling to Antarctica, her seventh continent. I’ve been blessed to have her as a role model and I couldn’t be more proud to follow in her footsteps as a writer.

Of course I said I would go with her to Cuba. In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, not many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. In fact, only a few travel agencies have the certifications to bring American tourists to the island. Because of this reason, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I’d ever have the opportunity to visit. I savored each city we visited, knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can talk to anyone/anything, so it was no problem and I enjoyed learning about Cuba with each of them. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I learned a lot about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

While Cuba was an amazing historical journey, I loved experiencing the culture first-hand. Here are five of the attributes I wanted to take home with me:

 1. The weather

When I left Dallas early March it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty. Although it’s spring in the United States, we were in Cuba during the middle of winter. I’m glad we didn’t stick around for rainy season, but I wouldn’t mind having such a mild winter here in the States.

 2. The cars

Back in the 1950s it was common for Americans to travel to Cuba on a ferry. Our local guide told us that many came to gamble in Havana and after one too many mojitos I assume, many bet their car. This explains why so many Chevys and Fords can be found speeding through the streets in Cuba. Our guide Ari said, “There are no mechanics in Cuba. Only magicians!” This is certainly true, as many of the old-fashioned cars are still up and running even though they’ve passed through many generations. Not all the cars have the antique charm only the 50s birthed, but these gems that do make Cuba such an exciting place to venture. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride around in a red convertible for an hour the last night we spent in Havana. By the end I was wishing I hadn’t taken the time to do my hair, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

3. The architecture

Because of Cuba’s history, there are so many types of architecture in Cuba. Some buildings had regal columns and others resembled brightly colored boxes. Each city we visited had a different style and even some neighborhoods were distinguished by particular architecture styles.

My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s mosaic style and then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

4. The music

I grew up around music and although I thought I enjoyed music a lot, I quickly realized that Cuba is on an entirely new level when it comes to enjoying music. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

 5. The outlook on life

Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easy going way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregated by the fences talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans do.

Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

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January Five

This is a new monthly series I will be starting on five new PR/advertising campaigns, observations or products I observe each month. These things might not all pertain to PR or current events, but I think this will be a fun way to document the year. Hope it’s just as enjoyable to read. Feel free to make additions in the comment box below.

1. CarMax Super Bowl commercial

If you know me, you know I love anything with puppies. This Super Bowl advertisement by CarMax is awesome because it has a people version and a puppy version for the Puppy Bowl. How adorable is that?

The hashtag #slowbark is too funny! I’m looking forward to seeing the Super Bowl commercials tomorrow.

(If the frame above doesn’t work, click here to watch.)

2. Edelman’s “Show Up Differently” Campaign

Image from edelman.com

Image from edelman.com

Full disclosure: I spent last summer at Edelman, so maybe I’m biased, but I think this new campaign is awesome. I love the artwork, the message and the meaning it carries for companies and individuals. The campaign focuses on innovation, collaboration and creation. Check out an infographic explaining more here.

3. Jelly

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter has created a new platform called Jelly. Although I haven’t personally used this platform, it’s a very interesting approach to answering questions. Jelly users can answer questions posted by others and ask their own about photos.

Have you used the app yet?

4. Starbucks Flan Latte

My barista roommate despises the new flan latte, or as I like to call it, the flatte. I happen to think it’s amazing and I liked it even more since Starbucks sent me to get a free one the day it was released (Gold card perks!). Everyone should go try it. You can thank me later.

Image from starbucks.com

Image from starbucks.com

5. Facebook’s New App Paper

Paper, Facebook’s new-and-improved set-up is supposed to be available Monday and I love the clean layout. Do you think it will be faster than the super-sluggish Facebook app?

Reflections on a Mason Jar of Memories

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

I don’t always play board games, but when I do…I typically can’t wait for someone to win so I can do something else.

Maybe I’m no fun, but something about the fact that most board games come with a million little pieces and a novel-sized book of instructions that people don’t read, but still manage to argue about the rules, makes them even less fun. I’d rather do something else, like have a conversation, bake or go outside like people used to do before televisions were invented.

On New Year’s Day I was with my boyfriend, some family and friends, and we started playing his favorite board game. I was reluctant at first, but since I was in the holiday spirit and figured it wouldn’t kill me, I went ahead and joined in. Seeing the delight on his face was something I wasn’t expecting. He was genuinely appreciative that I put aside my preferences and played his favorite game. Although it wasn’t a tremendous sacrifice on my part, it brought me joy in return and I started to think this would be a great continuation of my New Year’s resolution from last year.

Choosing Contentment

In 2013 I resolved to be more content and positive with my life the way it is. I have a perfectionist mindset, which often makes it hard to appreciate what is going right and focus on fixing what isn’t. To help me accomplish this new mindset I wrote down positive experiences and thoughts, and put them in a jar on my dresser. After ringing in the New Year, I read through all the little slips of paper. I remembered sweet conversations over mugs of coffee, thoughtful gifts I didn’t deserve from friends and family members, and the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me after seeing my work in print for the first time. Others included waking up to beautiful sunsets, volunteering at philanthropic community events and random acts of kindness.

Last year wasn’t perfect, but looking back on the positive things reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a year to be productive in accomplishing my goals. The strange thing is, I really didn’t even make specific goals when I decided what I would focus on in 2013. In addition, I felt much more successful than I had in years before when I wrote out a ton of things I wanted to change about my life.

Redefining Resolutions

Instead of a resolution that limits your possibilities, why not choose a word instead?

As a former, overly obsessive resolutionist, I know that more resolutions are abandoned than achieved, and the most apparent reason for that is the fact that most resolutions are about the person making them. As I looked back through all of the positive moments from 2013, I was reminded that contentment, which is defined as “a state of happiness or satisfaction,” is the key to accepting what I have without longing for more or struggling to be someone else every time January rolls around. If I’m distracted by what I don’t have, I can’t see past my own failures and can’t possibly be in tune with meeting the needs of others. Contentment is an open door to freedom from greed, envy, selfishness and severe expectations. Although contentment can’t solve all of life’s problems, it’s a great place to start.

Contentment takes discipline and can be difficult in our world where we know little of actual need, but reading through each of the positive things that happened in 2013, I was reminded that the good far outweighs the bad.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.                                    – Oprah Winfrey

Thankfulness

When contentment is achieved, thankfulness is the result. Thankfulness is a relational benefit of contentment, which is “expressive of thanks,” and “aware and appreciative of a benefit.” Oftentimes thankfulness obliges selflessness, which can lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. There are so many people and things to be thankful for and I sincerely hope that this year I will more effectively recognize what is lovely and worthy of gratitude (and even things that aren’t) and respond with self-sacrifice and love.

I would love to hear about the word you’ve chosen to focus on in 2014.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Interview Playlist

IMG_3441It’s interview season! Soon to be graduates are interviewing for full-time jobs and students are locking down plans for the spring semester. Interviews can be tough. Just thinking about them can make you feel tense and shaky.

Music has the power to change our mood, get us energized and help us feel optimistic. Why not listen to some upbeat songs that speak encouragement to you as you drive to your next interview?

Below are ten songs that are on my interview playlist, some funny, some serious and the rest are somewhere in between. These songs will help you get pumped up and help you get in the mindset to get the job (fingers crossed!)!

Good Day, Sunshine– The Beatles

Feeling anxious? Cheer up. It’s a new day and you’re about to destroy your competition. Listen to this one while you’re picking out which tie or pair of shoes to wear.

The Coffee Song– Cream

If you’re like me, your morning is incomplete without your coffee. (Coffee is so wonderful it deserves its own playlist, but that’s a playlist for another day.) Listen to this one while you wait for your coffee to brew or as you wait in the Starbucks drive-through.

We Belong Together– Mariah Carey

At this point you’re on the road, coffee in hand, hopefully feeling optimistic. I like to daydream about what my schedule might look like if I worked for the company I’m visiting for an interview and all that I could do to help them accomplish big things. We belong together.

Billionaire– Travie McCoy

Okay, so maybe in public relations I’ll never be a billionaire, but if I’m passionate about what I’m doing, I’ll never work a day in my life. Right?

Roar– Katy Perry

I may or may not actually like this song, but it’s pretty energizing. Think of the skills/attributes you have that you can emphasize at your interview. Think of possible questions they might ask you so you have an answer ready. They’re ready to hear you ROAR.

Fighter– Christina Aguilera

At this point you might be about a third of the way there, still feeling good but maybe a little nervous. I often reflect on past interview questions I’ve been asked and think of how I can answer them better this time around. To my past interviewees… Thanks for making me a fighter 🙂

Stronger– Kelly Clarkson

You’re getting closer. This interview won’t kill you. I guarantee walking in with a good attitude will help you learn more about yourself and make new connections even if you don’t get the job. Just keep breathing and trust that you’ll leave stronger than when you walked in.

Don’t Stop Believing– Journey

Maybe you’re having doubts. Don’t! Just relax and believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself your interviewer will notice. Think of a moment in your career that you were the most proud. Capture that moment and think of how you felt then rather than exploring your doubts.

Overcomer– Mandisa

As if Stronger didn’t get you pumped up, listen to this one if you’re having doubts. You can do this!

Hakuna Matata– The Lion King

This playlist wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a Disney song, so here you go. Hakuna Matata. It means no worries, so walk in with your head high and whether you make it or not, it’s okay.  Good luck!