Welcome to Kindergarten! Mercedes’ Meet & Greet Day

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Welcome to Kindergarten!

Mercedes’ Meet & Greet Day

08.27.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Today was a great day of anticipation for both myself and my daughter, Mercedes. Today, she was scheduled to meet her kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Abbott, and Mr. Vilku, and visit her classroom for the very first time!

Because of this, last night she set out the clothes she wanted to wear just before bedtime and agreed to sleep early, which in itself, was a miracle.

When talking about it, here were the most important things she wanted to know about kindergarten:

  1. “What colour is Mrs. Abbott’s hair?”
  2. “Will Mrs. Abbott show me where the bathroom is?”

And though I had to wake her up this morning, she didn’t fuss, and even complied when asked to take a shower and get ready for our big day!

She was even particular about her routine: she asked that her hair be dried with the blow-dryer; she decided against wearing her earrings, insisting instead that she wait for the “gold ones that Mama Rica” plans on getting her later; and agreed to wear socks to go out even though she usually only goes out in sandals. She even finished her breakfast (Life cereal) without complaint.

By 9:15 a.m., she was dressed, fed, and ready to go!

And since we’re only a five-minute walk from her school, we took our time strolling to the school property. Here was our conversation this morning:

Mercedes: “I’m going to big-school now, Mama!”

Me: “Yes, you are, Baby.”

Mercedes: “Remember you have to hold my hand when I cross the street so I don’t die because then I can’t do anything…like walk, tell stories, eat, play with Cuya, play with my dolls…”

Me: “Yeah, that’s a good idea. We should always hold hands when we cross. Okay, look both ways…”

Mercedes: “I don’t see any cars, Mama. Let’s go!”

Me: “Uh-huh. Wait for me.”

Mercedes: “There’s the SCHOOL! We’re gonna go there like Cuya. You’re gonna be with me and then next week I’ll be by myself.”

Me: “Yeah, we’re going to meet your teacher, Mrs. Aboott, and see your classroom.”

Mercedes: “How will I know where to go?”

Me: “I’ll show you. It’s room 14.”

Mercedes: “There’s room 1…2…3…4…those are not my rooms, Mama…7…8…9…”

Me: “We’re almost there…”

—And then we saw it, her classroom!

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kindergarten - door

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Once we arrived, we introduced ourselves to Mrs. Abbott, made corrections to Mercedes’ name tag (since she goes by her second name, not her first), and explored her new classroom.

Mercedes enjoyed taking a look around, wanting to play in almost every centre and/or station in the room, while I slowly introduced her to each new section:

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Her classroom blackboard. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Her classroom blackboard. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Can you spell "fun?" (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Can you spell “fun?” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes' class chart. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes’ class chart. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes matching the shapes in the shapes puzzle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes matching the shapes in the shapes puzzle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The computer station. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The computer station. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes checking the kitchen pantry for something to cook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes checking the kitchen pantry for something to cook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The little library. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The little library. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes counting the bear counters. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes counting the bear counters. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Lots of things to discover in kindergarten! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lots of things to discover in kindergarten! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Sifting through the shape blocks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved,
Sifting through the shape blocks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved,

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Checking out the puppets. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Checking out the puppets. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes "fishing" for numbers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes “fishing” for numbers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Colourful bear counters. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Colourful bear counters. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes going out for a stroll with her baby. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes going out for a stroll with her baby. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes' baby doll. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes’ baby doll. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes playing with wooden blocks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes playing with wooden blocks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes setting up the doll house. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes setting up the doll house. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes playing with the sandbox. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes playing with the sandbox. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes making some shapes with Playdoh. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes making some shapes with Playdoh. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While the mystery of Mrs. Abbott’s hair colour was solved (she’s blonde), Mercedes did hesitate in speaking with her or her other teacher, Mr. Vilku.

Even so, she was quite taken with each class station and quickly tried out every section. She picked out a piece of bread, corn, and other items to cook from the kitchen pantry; had a go at fitting wooden block shapes into their corresponding puzzles; counted a couple of colourful bears; gave a baby doll a stroll in her carriage; set up the doll house; built a tower out of blocks; and made star shapes out of Playdoh.

She also explored her own personal cubby, jacket, and bag hooks, and where to line up in the morning before the bell rings—mind you, she wasn’t that interested in those things—she simply wanted to play some more!

And before we knew it, it was time to go home.

Before leaving, she hugged Mrs. Abbott and Mr. Vilku goodbye—all ready to go to school on her own next week (Mommy hopes)!

***

Mercedes walking home from her Meet & Greet the Teacher Day! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes walking home from her Meet & Greet the Teacher Day! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes walking home from her Meet & Greet the Teacher Day! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes walking home from her Meet & Greet the Teacher Day! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Now, that all the forms are filled, all we have to do now is do grocery shopping for lunch and snacks, pack her new Hello Kitty backpack with extra clothes and indoor shoes, prepare her clothes to wear for the First Day of School, sleep early for the rest of the week—and well—keep our fingers crossed that she’ll agree to go to school (and stay at school) on her own!

***

Do you have a little one going into Jr. Kindergarten this fall?

If so, how have you prepared him/her for the First Day of School?

What books are you reading to your child in preparation of going to school for the first time?

***

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Teaser Tuesday. 08.27.2013

teaser tuesday - blue border

Teaser Tuesday

08.27.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read • Open to a random page • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

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Here’s my random teaser for Tuesday:

Yes, there was a bone in the soup. Yes, it was a smelly bone.

I know you do not eat a smelly bone. But many of the _____________ __ ___________ like to eat such bones. Bobkittens eat them, and rakunks, and pigoons, and liobams. They all eat smelly bones. And bears eat them.

I will tell you what a bear is later.

We don’t need to talk any more about smelly bones right now.

– pp.4-5.

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Can you guess from what title it’s from? (I’ll give you a hint…it hits bookshelves TODAY!)

cloud question marks***

maddaddam

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It’s MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, published by McClelland & Stewart, August 27, 2013!

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Have you read the other two books in this trilogy: Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood?

What do you think of the “waterless flood”? Self-fulfilling prophecy or apocalyptic fantasy?

***

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Book Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

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Book Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

08.26.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

kiss me first cvr

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Lottie Moggach

Format: Trade Paperback, 312 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67986-2

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

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Summary from Publisher:

A chilling and intense first novel, this is the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.”

 Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman–because soon, Leila will have to become her.

An ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity, Kiss Me First is brilliantly frightening about the lies we tell–to ourselves, and to others, for good, and for ill.

***

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

Kiss Me First, a debut novel by Lottie Moggach, is a creative and surprising story with a wonderfully original plot about two, very different women:

Leila, young, intelligent, yet fiercely logical, and somewhat sheltered in her experiences that she not only considers herself a social outcast, but is attracted to and driven to the isolation and comfort of the online forums hosted by an addictive, philosophical website called Red Pill.

And Tess, a vibrant, charismatic woman whose hunger for attention only temporarily masks her need for solitude and anonymity, who experiences the severity of both mood-changing symptoms as a result of the extremity found in those with bipolar disorder.

While one woman’s life is too emotionally buoyant that she decides the only way to cope is to commit suicide, another woman’s life is so isolated that she not only considers herself insignificant, but she also seriously considers taking on another person’s identity entirely.

The two women literally connect through the Internet to devise a plan, which suits both their different needs, and in doing so, test the boundaries of what is considered to be morally correct.

The first-person narrative easily reveals the dichotomy of the two women while its readability makes the mysterious plot not only believable, but also well-paced and engaging.

Readers engage the narrative as their own, fully immersing themselves in the characters’ neurosis, empathizing with the realism in which the work is written.

For a debut novel, the writing is convincing: both distinct voices reveal the neurosis the characters inhabit, it reveals the inner workings of bipolar disorder, and the danger of the role technology continues to play in our lives, in how people can prefer to hide or create virtual realities for themselves instead of fully participating in the real world.

While the characters are interesting enough, it’s the creative plot that will reel its readers in—and then twist them about in surprise, from its trip to disease and hospital, to an apartment above an Indian restaurant, to a freestyle commune, the virtual philosophies of Red Pill, to the head space of an online, intimate, and secret romance.

The story blurs the lines between where a person ends and another person begins, and puts to question the autonomy someone has over his or her life, the ethics associated with suicide and euthanasia, and the dangers of isolation, insecurity, and the impressibility of youth, and those who would take advantage of the vulnerable.

Readers may feel conflicted about the choices the characters feel compelled to make, the morality and/or immorality surrounding those choices, and question the ease in which fraud can take place because of society’s trust with online activity and the Internet.

Overall, the book is a wonderful surprise filled with emotional drama, dilemma, and virtual love, and compromise. For anyone who enjoys reading contemporary fiction and is interested in the mystery of bipolar disorder, the moral issues associated with suicide and euthanasia, the subtext of complicated relationships, and the growing immersion of society in technology, and the ease in which people can become prey to their insecurities, The First Kiss, by Lottie Moggach, is a poignant and disturbing novel.

 ***
Characters:  4 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallrsz_three_quarters

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada  on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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About the Author:

Lottie Moggach. From Goodreads.
Lottie Moggach. From Goodreads.

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Lottie Moggach is a journalist who has written for The Times, Financial Times, Time Out, Elle, GQ and The London Paper. She lives in north London. Kiss Me First is her first novel.

– From the Goodreads website.

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Links:

Like Lottie on Facebook

Become a fan of Lottie on Goodreads

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Do you feel people should have autonomy over their bodies and lives to the point of allowing and/or encouraging them to commit suicide, should they feel the need to?

How would you feel about impersonating someone else at risk of losing your own identity? Would you or wouldn’t you do it?

How much time do you spend on the Internet? What do you think is a healthy/unhealthy amount of time to spend on the Internet?

***

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Back-to-School Random House Giveaway Contest! Is Your Little One Nervous for September?

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Back-to-School Random House Giveaway Contest!

Is Your Little One Nervous for September?

08.23.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Only one more week until summer vacation is over and then the kids return to school.

For some of those kids, it’s not only going to be the First Day of School, but the First Day of School Ever—and that can be pretty daunting for children and/or their parents.

I should know, my daughter just turned four last week and will be going into junior kindergarten in a little more than a week!

While parents have quite a lot to shop for and also think about before the school season hits like:

  • new clothes for fall
  • indoor and outdoor shoes
  • backpacks
  • lunch bags
  • and school supplies

children can have their own form of anxiety about going to school for the first time.

While my daughter, Mercedes, has been somewhat exposed to the Ontario Early Years Centre close to our home, which is a drop-in environment for pre-schoolers to learn through play for as little as a half-hour to as long as half-a-day, she still has her reservations. If anything, she only wants to play if she knows that I’m right there beside her.

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Mercedes with her Easter Bunny craft, (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mercedes with her Easter Bunny craft, (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Is your little one nervous about going to school in September?

Well, Random House of Canada can help a little bit with that! They’re hosting a Back-to-School Giveaway!

Here’s what you can win!

The Pocket Mommy

pocket mommy

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Saying goodbye to Mom at the kindergarten door can be tough. Samuel hates it and wishes he could have a tiny, pocket-sized mommy to carry around with him all day. His mom slips a pretend mommy into his pocket, and when she comes to life, Samuel is delighted… at first. But he soon discovers that having a mom along in kindergarten isn’t as much fun as he thought it would be. Sure, she helps him remember the words to songs and keeps him company. But she also rearranges the bookshelf, corrects his artwork, and tries to clean out the guinea pig cage—all with disastrous (and comic) results. An energetic romp with a sweet core, The Pocket Mommy follows one little boy as he navigates the age-old conflict between the comfort of the familiar and the joy of letting go.

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* The contest is open to US and Canadian residents (excluding Quebec).

To enter, click on the link below and fill in the Rafflecopter.

enter to win

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Good luck in not only winning this great Back-to-School Giveaway, but in getting your little ones off to school (especially if it’s their first time)!

I know I’ll definitely need it!

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A special thanks to Cass and Random House of Canada for hosting this great back-to-school giveaway, but also allowing me to share this giveaway with you!

***

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It’s a Circus Turning Four! (And the Books that Make You Do Acrobats)

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It’s a Circus Turning Four!

(And the Books that Make You Do Acrobats)

08.21.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

My little girl is not so little anymore. On August 14th, she turned four.

And rather than throw her a large family bash where she’d most likely get lost in the noise and attention of adult conversation and gossip, my husband and I decided to come up with another alternative. It is my firm belief that birthdays should focus on the happiness of the celebrant, so we opted out of a large adult, family gathering, and took her and her little brother out for some fun at Fantasy Fair in Toronto instead.

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Her first and favourite ride that day were the Bump-a-Boats. She was the perfect size and age for the ride, free to ride and steer on her own. And she was aggressive enough to give her brother and a couple of other riders a few bumps along the way! No one drowned.

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M. ready to steer her bumper boat. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. ready to steer her bumper boat. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The decadence of the antique carousel attracted young and old riders alike and I couldn’t help, but take a few photographs. Mercedes was also keen on riding the carousel and did so, a total of five to six times the entire day. Giddy-up, horsie!

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Antique carousel. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Antique carousel. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Giddy-up! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Giddy-up! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Another delight was the Imagination Flight planes that hovered in circle formation for tots and up. Mercedes and her brother enjoyed their flight as well as co-piloting together for the very first time.

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Flying high at Fantasy Fair. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Flying high at Fantasy Fair. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And a circus wouldn’t be complete without some balloons—especially ones that are large enough to ride in and go up high! The baskets twist and turn, too. While my son wasn’t too fond of this ride because of his fear of heights, Mercedes braved the way with her brother and Daddy by her side.

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M. excited to ride in the balloon! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. excited to ride in the balloon! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While I was a little hesitant about letting the kids run around the Dreamers Play Village all day because of the price tag on our family pass (I mean, if they wanted to play at a Play Place, we could have simply taken them both to McDonalds for free!), but the size of the play space, the number of mazes, jumping stations, and caboodle, climbing slides…well, a kid (and his/her parents) can go completely nuts in here. My kids certainly did. Here’s a picture of Mercedes climbing, not the walls, but a rocket? Zoom-zoom.

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M. climbing in the Play Village. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. climbing in the Play Village. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To adults a train usually means two things: a transit commute into and out of work, or traffic behind the railroad X and its annoying bars as a train goes by. Not for my kids at Fantasy Fair, though. Nope. They lined up for this thing a number of times. And it didn’t matter how long the lineup was either. They waited. They yearned for the front coach. They wanted pictures with the caboose. They yelled, “All aboard!” and no one was a bother. While the train took off to its Fantasy Fair destination of circling around the “park,” and through the tunnel, I ran to the other side as quickly as I could to capture this shot. (Thank goodness for my sports setting!) Choo choo!

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Choo! Choo! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Choo! Choo! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And of course, Mercedes couldn’t resist riding these pink horses. I didn’t train her. It’s not a sexist thing. She absolutely LOVES this colour all on her own. Her room is pink. Her clothes are pink. Her toys are pink. She most likely dreams in pink. And when she was born, her grandfather nicknamed her “Pinky,” because her flesh was so flushed, you guessed it—pink! Pink, pink, pink. That’s my little girl.

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M.'s own carousel. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M.’s own carousel. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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I have a slew of other photos that I took at the Fair, but then you’d be here FOREVER.

After the day-trip to Fantasy Fair, Mercedes played outside while her small after-party with just our immediate family enjoyed a potluck dinner, light conversation, and some hearty singing on behalf of our little-but-I’m-a-big-girl-now, girl. She’s already four and it feels like she’s running into her future (that’s how it feels for me, anyway, as her doting-very-attached mother).

***

M. running into her future. She's four-years-old! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. running into her future. She’s four-years-old! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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I’m uncertain as to what wish she made that day when blowing out the candles of her cake, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the circus and the colour pink.

Our wish for her, of course, is entirely different. We wish for her: confidence, beauty, grace, love, happiness, peace, strength, wisdom, good health, and prosperity…and, okay…a little pink, just because she loves it so much! Oh, and obedience. (I forgot obedience!!)

Happy birthday, Baby. You’re four and it was certainly a circus getting there! We love you!

May you always have the spirit of fun, creativity, and imagination in your life. And may your life be the best ride ever!

***

Happy birthday, Mercedes! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Happy birthday, Mercedes! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Here are the books that can make you or me (and even Mercedes) do acrobats:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circus cvr

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If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss

if i ran the circus

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A Son of the Circus by John Irving

son of the circus

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Cirque du Soleil: 20 Years Under the Sun by Tony Babinski

cirque du soleil

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

water for elephants

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Little Box of Wizard Tricks: Over 80 Tricks to Amaze Your Friends by Janet Sacks

little box wizard tricks

four yr old wild wonderful

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Have you ever visited the circus? If so, what’s your favourite act?

Do you remember your 4th birthday? What did you do? What was it like?

If you could be part of the circus, what would you be? A magician? An acrobat? Etc. And why?

***

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If Something Happens Only “Once in a Blue Moon,” It’s Happening Today

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If Something Happens Only “Once in a Blue Moon,” It’s Happening Today

08.20.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

You know when it happens. The rarity of something. And you’ve probably either heard of the term, “once in a blue moon,” or have even used it before. Yes, its origins are folklore. And no, it doesn’t literally describe a blue moon. (The only blue moon I’ve seen is the one shown in the Smurfs movie—and yes, it was extremely blue. This is not the type of moon referred to now.)

***

From www.modernpsalmist.wordpress.com.
From http://www.modernpsalmist.wordpress.com.

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Aside from its rarity reference and the song, “Blue Moon,” which tends to play in people’s heads when mentioned, the definition of a blue moon itself is not entirely agreed upon. (Of course, it had to be more confusing!)

But, generally speaking, the year is divided up into four seasons (winter, spring, summer, and fall), with three full moons per season; or, alternatively, twelve months, with one full moon per month.

Of course, nature has a way of periodically resisting the imposed-manmade calendar set against it, and well, rightly throws our timekeeping abilities into a funk.

A fine example of this is when one of the seasons will sneak in four full moons instead of three, which will give us 13 full moons in a year instead of the usual 12. And it’s the third full moon in a season with four that is referred to as a “blue moon.”

How rare is it, really? It’s not. Not really. It happens on average, about once every 2.7 years. But, I’m not a stickler for exact numbers. Three years is a good enough average for me—while all this time growing up, I thought the reference to a blue moon meant maybe once in every 100 years! (I didn’t have access to Google in my day, okay?)

And really as a sentimentalist, I’ve always wished that the blue moon was indeed the colour blue.

Regardless of my disappointment, I sat on my patio tonight and participated in the “rarity” of this blue moon’s moment. Because really, where might I be in 2.7 years time? To acknowledge it is the least I can do. To witness it and enjoy it is even better.

I’m a moon-lover anyway and full moons are my favourite. No, I don’t “howl” or “cast a spell” when I see one (that’s an entirely different blog post altogether)—but, I do enjoy the view.

If something happens only “once in a blue moon,” and you’ve professed some kind of rarity in your life—today’s your lucky day because it might just happen.

***

Blue moon with house. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. August 20, 2013. All rights reserved.
Blue moon with house. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. August 20, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Blue moon. August 20, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Blue moon. August 20, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. Canon Powershot SX10 IS. 71x zoom. All rights reserved.

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What can you think of that you’ve said only happens to you “once in a blue moon?”

Did you go out tonight and witness the blue moon? What did you think?

***

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Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition: More Than a Culinary Adventure

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Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition:

More Than a Culinary Adventure

08.16.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve never been one to be in the kitchen except to help set up the table or to grab my food and eat. My mother tried teaching me how to cook when I was a child, but my instincts for it were pretty bad. Without a recipe and its detailed measurements, I felt lost and overwhelmed.

I had made a home-cooked meal on my own when I was about 12-years-old and set it on the table for my father to eat at dinnertime. Unfortunately, my father refused to touch it or even to try it, and I think it had nothing to do with its appearance or its potential taste, but that he was used to and preferred to only eat my mother’s cooking. Needless to say, a 12-year-old girl who’s already insecure about her own cooking did not understand that. And so, from then on, I took a silent vow never to cook again.

And I didn’t. Not really. Not in a substantial, award-winning way. I’ve stuck pretty much to basics, which has allowed me to let others shine in this area. (And when I say, “shine,” I mean from the sweat of being near the proximity of a 350-degree oven.)

We all have our different gifts. Mine is reading and what I’d like to think of as my gift of gab, as well as my writing. For others it’s a keen palette and a fearlessness of stoves, ovens, and sizzling objects prone to burning.

While my cousin, Myra, has often disclosed that she’s “not a word-person,” she can, however, create a culinary storm in the kitchen, which stems when asked, from her love of eating—and luckily for us both, we absolutely share that in common.

And so, it was with great pride that I did a few visual somersaults when I heard the news that she was invited to the national cast and call audition for the MasterChef Canada season, a reality cooking show, which is expected to air sometime this fall.

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Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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And while I’m no Master Chef, I am a firm believer in supporting those you love in the things they are passionate about. My brother is an aspiring actor; my aunt, a line dancing teacher; one of my cousins, an artist, and the other, a screenwriter, to name, but just a few. And I’m the type of person who’s eager to show my support in real ways even if it means simply attending a line-dancing class, an audition, art show, or a reading.

And because MasterChef Canada also encouraged its competing incumbents to bring along official “support” people, I thought, What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

***

But, the day did not come without its complications. I had woken up at 5:00 a.m. with only a few hours of sleep from the night before (after attending my niece’s birthday party) and still needed to prepare my travel plans. As a hometown girl from the suburbs with an unfamiliarity with Toronto, I had to be sure of how to get there and independent enough to travel without a data plan (I can only phone or text from my cell, which is the price of my own personal frugality and not jumping on the bandwagon by buying the latest version of the iPhone, which by the way, died on me because of my lack of a phone charger in my purse.).

Aside from that, my Presto Card was empty, I couldn’t find my husband’s card until I was forced to wake him up to tell me, and I dragged my feet all the way to the downtown bus terminal with a gorgeous Steve Madden purse on my shoulder filled with about 20 lbs. of stuff in the hopes that no one would feel inclined to mug me or rape me in the early hours of 6:00 a.m.—and then finally arrived at the station to only miss my bus by a mere shadow of TWO minutes! And, of course, my luck would have it that it was a Sunday and that the bus I was supposed to take was scheduled on its holiday schedule, which in layman’s terms meant I would have to wait a whole other hour for the next one to arrive. *sigh* [Insert deep breath here.]

While my original plan was to travel alone, apparently my aunt had also told my cousin that she might head on down to Toronto to cheer her on for her audition, too, so I was told by my cousin to also give her a call—which I did—and which also ended up delaying my trip by uh…oh, I don’t know…four hours!

After an insurmountable number of obstacles including unexpected trips to the bathroom, the Yorkdale Station locked down until 9:00 a.m., the closure of the Yonge-University subway line from St. George into the downtown Toronto core for the weekend, wrong directions given by TTC staff on not one, but two occasions, and an aunt who was cranky out of hunger, impatience, stress of walking, getting lost, and not having things go as she had originally planned or pictured it (my aunt’s a planner, as well as somewhat of a control freak—it’s in our gene pool and I suspect can really only be helped with years of therapy and medication)—well, it was a miracle I even made it.

But, I did.

Here are the front doors of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the cast and call auditions were being held for the weekend:

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Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And while it doesn’t show here in the photograph below, the stress of getting to the Intercontinental Hotel in the name of supporting my cousin for her audition was indeed substantial! (And somewhat worsened throughout the day because of what seemed like perpetual waiting, incessant inquiries, anxiety, impatience, and disagreement!)

—My aunt had her own plans of breaking the “no supporters allowed [in the basement of the hotel] to accompany competitors,” while I was more than happy to comply, follow the rules, and wait out the auditions by taking a personal tour of Toronto with my camera. My aunt won out as my compliance also seemed to mean I also had to follow her directions and go against my better instincts, which was to either stay put in the lobby and wait, share a conversation or two with other supporters who were also waiting, or start clicking away at the downtown core that I promised myself I would see.

Master Chef Canada - supporters
“Official” supporters of Myra’s audition for Master Chef Canada 2013. Photo credit: (c) R. Garett. All rights reserved.

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And so, even though I was held hostage for most of the day by a cranky aunt and suspecting MasterChef Canada staff and security, I was, at the very least, able to fulfill my first purpose: literally be there for my cousin in support of her passion in the culinary arts—and as an unexpected bonus, also be able to enjoy and appreciate some of the Intercontinental Hotel’s decorative paintings…

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Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…receive hospitality from some of the MasterChef Canada staff…

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…and enjoy the fine art of Toronto’s famous roadside dogs!

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Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. My dog is the one on the right. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While the waiting was tedious, but obviously part of MasterChef Canada’s strategy to put some kind of stress-test on its incumbents, I was able to peek at my cousin’s cooler of food goodies while warding away any potential competitors’ secret desire for sabotage (and no, the Starbucks Food package wasn’t part of her ingredients, but was her actual pre-packaged lunch.).

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Myra's cooler with "secret" ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s cooler with “secret” ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While the waiting game was effectively played, I was especially proud of my cousin’s calm and collected composure. She, like most, were waiting patiently, eager to complete the registration process, and then showcase her personal dish to the preliminary judges. No unnecessary drama, excessive call for attention, or gimmicks on her part—while for others, I unfortunately can’t say the same thing,—but alas, I suspect the loudest competitors were most likely also the worst cooks since food should be able to speak for itself (especially if you get the seasoning right).

Myra, on the other hand, was simply there to present the judges with a creative and delicious concoction of her own culinary making. (And not because she lacks in personality—she’s got a lot of that on her own once you really get to know her—but she also certainly didn’t lack any self-control, which is what made me especially proud of her.)

She was also part of Sunday’s second competing batch, tagged and ready as competitor #118, ready to go into registration at noon, and eventually slotted as #J8 to plate her dish in the early evening.

Myra's tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Myra's "plating" number: "J8," as in "The Judges just ate Myra's dish and fainted from bliss!" (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s “plating” number: “J8,” as in “The Judges just ate Myra’s dish and fainted from bliss!” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

And, so, after my aunt left Toronto to attend a BBQ later that evening, while I decided to stay and perhaps get a little taste of Toronto for myself, and Myra needed to return to the holding room to prepare to finally “plate” her dish before the judges (a timed feature, no less),—I was free to take on my own little adventure by finally stepping away from the hotel and hitting a Starbucks for a much-needed coffee and my favourite roast: a Tall Blonde (because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde?).

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My order of a "tall blonde," because really...who doesn't love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My order of a “tall blonde,” because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

And because I’m a writer, sitting alone in a coffee shop in a city I’m unfamiliar with, is nothing really new to me. Loneliness can take on many forms, but for me, sitting alone in a coffee shop isn’t one of them, but rather a much welcome form of rest and relaxation. It gave me a chance to filter out the noise and stress of the day and simply sit back and enjoy the moment. Alone. Quietly. [Insert another deep breath here.]

But, I wasn’t entirely alone. My introversion also means my senses (as I was told) are somewhat more acute than my extroverted counterparts. That, and I had with me, my beloved camera.

Capturing an image, however ordinary, is to capture an essential moment in time, or to capture an image that evokes a particular memory or emotion for me. And what I usually see behind the lens is not necessarily what others may even care to notice. But, that’s what I love about photography. An end to a digital “roll,” can give me a visual layout of my day—and even document in my mind those moments that weren’t intentionally or unintentionally caught on camera.

Here are a few images I stored with my camera lens while waiting for nothing in particular to happen:

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The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Grainy wood panel. Well...because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Grainy wood panel. Well…because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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She's winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
She’s winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"Reflecting" on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“Reflecting” on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But then again, after a 45-minute wait, my coffee was getting cold as was my tolerance of the servers’ shifty glances in my direction. While unsaid, I’m sure there’s an unwritten rule about how long you can hold a table in a coffee shop based on the amount tendered on your receipt, which in my case was a measly $2.26 (with free refills due to my Green membership level on my Starbucks card).

So, I texted Jon, another cousin of mine, who, while we didn’t grow up together as children, nor have had much contact with each other for years with exception to maybe two, short, scarce meetings, not only shares his genetic code with me, but also a professional hobby, as well as the same personality type. We’re both writers (myself, a fiction and poetry writer, and he, a screenwriter)—and are both introverts.

I texted Jon for a potential meet-up at Starbucks, figuring three things: 1) he lives relatively close to where I was already located, 2) I’d really love to see him and connect with him and, 3) if he says no, I’ll just continue sipping my coffee and eventually head out and tour Toronto on my own.

Amazingly enough, Jon took me up on my invite and texted me back saying, Absolutely, I’ll be there in about 20 minutes-ish.

That was a pretty exciting “20-minutes-ish” wait, let me tell you!

***

When Jon finally arrived, we hugged in greeting as if we had grown up together. And then, of course, there was an entire conversation to tackle, easing in first with some small talk, and then later, sharing a little bit more of ourselves. (Who am I kidding? I pretty much shared any and every detail of my life as soon as I saw him! But, that’s just me. Who bloody has the time for small talk?!?)

I blame nervousness and the Tall Blonde for my jittery, spastic talk. The need to impress and share as much as possible in a short given time turned me into a hyperactive chatterbox. I mean, when was I going to see my long, lost cousin again? Really? It could be another 10 years, at which point, I’d have a whole new, slew of information to share in nano speed.

But, as time passed, it became a little easier. (I had already renewed my introverted energy by being alone for a good 45 minutes prior to his arrival.) And thankfully, in getting to know Jon again, I quickly realized we have quite a lot in common, both in the way we carefully and thoughtfully analyze and shape our thoughts into speaking, and the moral fibre we tend to appreciate and gravitate towards.—Okay, wait.—Jon is more careful than I am. My analysis is quick, but my mouth tends to be quicker, which means I can trip over my words as they come out.

And it made me also realize, I’m a self-professed introvert who really yearns to be something else entirely. But, I tell you this (there I go, talking again), being around a number of people especially over the number two, completely EXHAUSTS me. It’s not that I’m necessarily shy. But being in a big group puts an invisible pressure on me to “perform,” rather than sit quietly and absorb information and work things out for myself. I care deeply about thoughts and feelings more than I ever will about say…the rise and fall of the stock market (I should know, I worked for Merrill Lynch Canada for a number of years).

And what was even more exciting was the serendipitous way in which I scored my very own vintage typewriter that day! While talking, I tend to switch topics easily, or at least say what pops into my head at any given moment. I’m sure you can tell with my “bloggish” writing that this is in fact true. And so, while our conversation took a short pause, I blurted out quite randomly,

                    You know what I want? A vintage typewriter!

It’s true. I blurted it. Randomly. I’ve been yearning for a vintage typewriter for a very long time. I’ve searched thrift shops. I’ve checked eBay, Etsy, Kijijji, Craiglist, but could never find something I could quite afford (sellers seem to really put a hefty price tag on nostalgia). And you know what happened?

Jon’s face broke into a huge smile.

                   Really? Because I’ve been trying to get rid of one of mine!

Ah ha! You see what I mean? Kismet. My meeting with Jon was predestined. Coincidence? I think not. Serendipitous? Absolutely. This was an important moment of connection and I was ecstatic!

Why am I sharing this pedantic information with you? Well, the point about the typewriter is what led us to eventually leave Starbucks, hop on the TTC, take a short tour of the former Maple Leaf Gardens, which is now sadly a Loblaws supermarket (which was not only bittersweet for me, but angers me enough to want to join a protest movement against it), and visit Jon’s apartment, and his cat, Alice, who I’m deathly allergic to, in order to pick it up (the typewriter, that is—not the cat). [Another breath needed here.] <—This is how fast I really talk, by the way.

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Centre ice is now located in aisle 25, now home to canned vegetables, packaged beans, and canned meat. A travesty. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leafs: painting picnic chairs in our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens: painting picnic chairs in the shape of our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But, I have no ill feelings toward Alice. It’s not her fault I could at any time be thrown into a hive attack or a choking frenzy by simply being in her presence. It’s enough to make a cat really insecure. She was, actually, quite shy, curious enough to peek at me while I was in the bathroom, and then somewhat self-conscious when I came out, that she had no choice but to hide under the bed, which is why I have no photograph of her. (It’s okay. I think she was more relieved than I was disappointed.)

I do, however, have photographs of Jon’s stoop, his sneakers, and a red house across his apartment. Like the classic introvert that Jon is, he refused to sign a photo release, which would allow me to post his picture on my website. Hence, his shoes will have to do.

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Jon's stoop---and no, he doesn't live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon’s stoop—and no, he doesn’t live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

   ***

jon red house
The Red House as in “The Red House” by Mark Haddon, except in downtown Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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You can't really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon's. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
You can’t really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon’s. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Okay, I have to insert this here. I was staring at the above picture and thought,

Shoes? That’s the best representation I can share of my cousin, Jon? C’mon! That’s CRAZY.

And so, even with his introverted nature and his refusal to sign a photo release, I thought I’d go ahead and compromise. This is Jon…with his face covered, of course.

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Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To be quite honest, I really don’t know why Jon would prefer his photograph not be shared with the world. He’s quite a handsome bloke! Behind that graphic heart is a heart-throb who simply hasn’t realized it yet. (He’s intelligent, witty, and kind, too—just saying.) But, as his cousin, I must respect his need for privacy.

***

And while his vintage typewriter was busy saying its last goodbye, Myra, was also busy plating her dish for the MasterChef Canada judges:

(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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Myra's audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Myra’s audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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She did an outstanding job! When she told me what she might be making, I actually didn’t know what she was talking about. It was beyond me! Like I’ve always said, she’s the Master Chef and I’m the Master Eater. Brilliant, Myra! Your dish was magnificent!

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My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. Alll rights reserved.
My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The day, overall, was an exceptional one. The moral of the story?

  1. Support your family’s personal endeavours and passions. In essence, support them.
  2. Waiting has its advantages.
  3. It’s not always about winning, but about showing up.
  4. Plans are sometimes made to be broken. Live a little. Explore.
  5. Cousins are awesome people. Aunts are, too (when they’re not hungry, that is).
  6. Make friends with strangers. How else do you make friends?
  7. Pretend to be a tourist. It’s easier to take photographs that way.
  8. Bring a pen and copies of a photo release with you wherever you go.
  9. Take risks. Even if it takes the form of meeting someone you haven’t seen in years.
  10. If you own a Starbucks card, register it, and get free refills on coffee and tea.
  11. Always have allergy medication (and a phone charger) in your purse for emergencies.
  12. It isn’t where you go, but who you’re with, that makes all the difference.
  13. A stoop is as good a place as any to get to know someone.
  14. Learn how to cook even if you get your feelings hurt. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to audition for a cooking show.
  15. Find out what “ceviche” really means.
  16. Sometimes it’s best to follow your better instincts even if it doesn’t agree with someone else’s.
  17. MasterChef Canada auditions are not the same as Canadian Idol ones. No screaming required or support people outside holding rooms.
  18. It’s not important to get on television. It’s more important to know how to cook.
  19. Vintage typewriters can be free if you’re related to someone who wants to give one away.
  20. Don’t step on the sacred spot that is centre ice in what was formerly known as the Maple Leaf Gardens. Even if you have a shopping cart. It’s simply sacrilegious.
  21. People paint themselves in colour and actually stand still pretending to be statues. Toronto doesn’t seem to mind this.
  22. Feed your aunt.
  23. Don’t talk like a hyperventilating maniac. It scares others.
  24. TTC buses are crowded. GO Transit is extremely fast.
  25. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to wait for the next bus.

***

A special thanks to Myra for being a chef in her own right, which allowed me to live vicariously through her audition experience. And a special thanks to Jon for putting up with my incessant talking.

No animals were harmed in the production of this blog post. Especially Alice.

***

zara bird autograph

International Female Orgasm Day (and the Books that Make Sure We Get There)

International Female Orgasm Day

(and the Books That Make Sure We Get There)

08.08.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

*Contains adult content. Not intended for children or those under the age of 18.*

I checked my Twitter feed this morning and was surprised to discover that it’s International Female Orgasm Day. What that means exactly, I’m not quite sure.

How do we celebrate such a holiday?

Masturbation? Pre-scheduled sex with our partner? An impromptu crash-course on the biology of the vagina? A shopping binge on sexy lingerie? Or a guiltless visit to our local Aren’t We Naughty Adult store?

And then I thought,

Yes—and why not all these things?

I’ve never considered myself a prudish character, while at the same time, I’m well aware I was raised quite strictly by traditional, church-going parents, which meant for me, no sex until marriage—or at least in my personal view, not until I was old enough to understand the consequences and responsibilities associated with being sexually active, as well as in love.

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t a young woman who threw my body around based on the whim of teenage rebellion, hungry sexual desire, irresponsible, heavy drinking, or even loneliness. My standards were fixed on the sentimental idea that my sexual encounters would happen when I felt I was mature enough to not only commit to a serious relationship, but be mature enough myself to understand not only my own sexuality, but my own willingness to be vulnerable enough to someone I not only care about or trust deeply, but also someone I deeply love.

I wasn’t willing to play around with my sexuality to meet an insatiable curiosity or pressure by popular demand. It wasn’t prudish by any means. I recognized my libido as a healthy part of my life, but I simply knew who I was and how important sex was to me to actively decide to wait, not only for the right time, but for the right partner.

While others bragged of their sexual conquests, moving rapidly and almost nonchalantly from partner to partner, I didn’t think of myself as better or worse than my peers, but simply more patient. The saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” was often a personal mantra for me and did in time, eventually prove to be true.

Monogamy, too, while somewhat devalued as a conservative, perhaps “boring,” sexual lifestyle, is something I not only take pride in, but thoroughly enjoy, and honour.

I quite loved the newness of my sexual relationship with my partner and my husband at the beginning—its shyness, uncertainty, and even awkwardness. It meant we were not only new to each other, but that our imperfections, as well as our humility meant we were perhaps a little inexperienced, but also both willing to grow and learn—together.

And after 11 years of marriage, we’re still learning and growing—and enjoying orgasms! It’s nothing to shy about, but in fact, something precious to celebrate. I appreciate my husband more in the sexual journey that we’ve taken together from the very first time we were together, to see how we’ve grown together sexually, to know not only what we enjoy personally as individuals, but also as a couple.

Boring? No way.

  • What’s boring about knowing your partner’s body and desires intimately?
  • What’s boring about expressing your sexual inhibitions with someone you trust?
  • What’s boring about experimenting, and learning, and growing, only to eventually lose those inhibitions with the person you love?
  • What’s boring about practicing favourite positions and discovering new ones together?
  • What’s boring about watching your bodies, and moods, and sexual needs change over time?
  • What’s boring about getting better at sex with one partner over a lifetime than having mediocre sex with hundreds of different partners that you can’t even bother to remember?

I’ll tell you: Absolutely, nothing!

But, the orgasm is not, for me, simply a physical result of provocative, hot sex. It is partly that because the physicality is something you just can’t deny.

But for women (and also for men), a lot of the orgasm itself is also an emotional one. The anticipation, the foreplay, the hunger to be fulfilled physically and emotionally, to be connected in such a physical, yet intimate way, as well as the willingness to give and receive sexually, to want to please your partner as well as enjoy pleasure yourself—the trust and true vulnerability that it requires to have not only great sex, but meaningful sex is not only an art, but a gift that both partners can truly enjoy when both are mature and loving enough to reciprocate.

Can you have great sex and orgasm with a stranger? Of course. But, is it meaningful? Meh. Probably not. Not really. Nor is it really smart. With the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, it’s not only unsafe, it’s illogical. Why risk your health, your body, the possibility of unwanted pregnancy or STD’s, and also deprive yourself of emotional connection for a five-minute, meaningless, “jump in the hay?”

Hay are for horses, not for people. Well, not for me, anyway. I’m not jumping in anywhere with just anybody because I have an itch that needs to be scratched. Sound a little dirty? It can be. Especially when you aren’t clean or careful or (wait for it…)—committed. Who knows where so-and-so has been? And who knows if they’ll be there tomorrow? And if your answer to that is, that you don’t really care, then really, why even have sex with that person at all? There are so many other and much better things to do with your five minutes, I think. (Even if it isn’t sex.) Why waste it on someone you don’t care will be there the next day, the next month, or even the next year?

But, I’m not here to judge.

I’m here to talk about and celebrate the female orgasm! Because ladies, if you’ve had one or two, or even a million, you know like I do, how essential and exquisite—and meaningful it really is.

My only advice to women out there who have not enjoyed their sex lives to the fullest potential is:

1. The bad advice you received from your grandmother or maybe even your mother about sex being “dirty,” or “unholy” is wrong and untrue. Erase it from your thinking. When enjoyed with a person you love, trust, and are committed to, as well as mature enough to share with—especially in marriage, it is exactly the opposite!

2. Make sure you’re emotionally ready to have sex with someone before you go ahead and do it. Don’t judge yourself—just know yourself and be responsible.

—Does that mean I recommend 16-year-old girls to go ahead and have sex because they “feel they are in love?” Um, NO. I also believe in the age appropriateness of sex for women. While maturity plays a large role in the readiness of sex, age also plays a large role in maturity as well.

A 16-year-old girl is still going through puberty, dealing with pimples, prom, and other teenage pressures associated with that age. It’s a tumultuous time for a young woman just beginning in her journey of self-discovery. She should be able to come into a fuller knowledge of herself, her needs, and her desires, before she fully engages in sex to allow her the opportunity to not only grow as person first, but also be prepared for the physical and emotional consequences associated with sexual activity.

And should a young girl accidentally get pregnant, it’s not only unfortunately, a social taboo (not mine, but one that does still exists), it’s simply inconvenient!

A 16-year-old girl has not yet had the opportunity to finish her education should she choose to, or has not had the opportunity to gain full-time employment that reflects her gifts and a career that reinforces her vocation. These tools aren’t there for her yet and getting pregnant at an early age will only stall, if not make life’s choices and opportunities more difficult—and sometimes in such sad events, prevent her from reaching her personal goals or fullest potential—because of her early responsibility of raising a baby first. 

Should a child raise a child? While it has been done, in my opinion, it’s not ideal, and if it can be avoided or prevented, all the better for the young woman.—

3. Make sure you and your partner are clean before sex, so take that shower! It’s not only common sense, it’s a sexual courtesy.

4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You won’t know if you like something or don’t like it, if you don’t at least try it first. Do what works for you and your partner.

5. Empower yourself. Understand that your sexual libido and needs are important and healthy. Allow yourself to really enjoy sex.

6. Be confident in yourself and your body. You are unique and if you’re with a partner who you trust and who loves you, you need not feel self-conscious or that you need to change yourself in any way. Don’t sabotage yourself with poor body image. Our bodies will change especially over time. If you’re married and have been for a while, remember to enjoy your partner when he/she was 26 and continue to do so when he/she is 87!

7. Don’t take yourself or your partner and your sexual relationship so seriously all the time. Part of the joy of sex is fumbling around, making mistakes, learning, and laughing about it! You and your partner aren’t sexual failures or sexual superheroes—you’re human.

8. Don’t pressure yourself or your partner to meet sexual standards. It’s not a competition or a comparison to others. Understand yourself and your partner’s needs and know that they are not always in sync with yours or the same as you imagine or would like. Understand your bodies and appreciate what you and your partner have to offer and accept in one another.

9. Communicate openly with your partner about what you enjoy and don’t enjoy. Be honest and don’t judge. Like food, we’re allowed to have different tastes, including sexual ones. It’s not taboo, if you and your partner are both comfortable engaging in it.

10. Have sex often. And enjoy it!

11. Relax, and most importantly, ladies—let go!

Here are some books that will definitely help you and your partner take you there:

Hot Sex: How to Do It by Tracey Cox

hot sex

365 Sex Positions: A New Way, Every Day for a Steamy, Erotic Year by Lisa Sweet

365 Sex Positions

Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm by Nicole Daedone

slow sex

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Happy International Female Orgasm Day, Ladies!

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zara bird autograph

Roughing It Out in the Wilderness: Books to Keep You Camping

I am a book nerd avatar

Roughing It Out in the Wilderness:

Books to Keep You Camping

08.06.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve been literally disconnected the past few weeks since I packed my bags, my tent, and my husband, and  children to the wilderness of Camp Byng, as in Byng Island—and yes, there was no electricity, nor Wi-Fi, nor any other means of connection that required a plug-in.

It was, for me, a test of sorts, of my ability to adapt to a different environment, to stretch my patience as well as my ingenuity, and ultimately learn how to relax in the face of challenges. And I’ll be the first to admit, I pretty much failed on all counts. This was, after all, my first camping trip with my new family since my last camping trip with my parents as a kid in 1986.

Our travel consisted of two-to-three hours of driving, one traffic jam, and two pit stops, when I realized my skinny jeans were too tight and that proper dress for camping should really consist of track pants, sneakers, or hiking boots rather than sexy sling back sandals.

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camping - drive
Our drive to Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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—I have to inject here, in fairness, that in all consideration, my husband and I were up the night before until 3:00 a.m. the next morning still packing for a family of four consisting of two young ones: a nine-year-old hyperactive boy, and a feisty three-year-old girl whose only joy in the outdoors has extended only as far as our own backyard.

Thankfully, my brother-in-law, a law enforcer and self-made boy scout, helped my husband pitch our tent, while my brother and his girlfriend came to the rescue with our sunshade—et voila! Camp was on!

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E. pitching the last peg of our tent. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
E. pitching the last peg of our tent. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We enjoyed a good dose of outdoor living with a morning 1 km trek to the washrooms to relieve ourselves and to shower. And when I say “shower,” I mean effectively trying to balance your naked self and your clothes from touching or toppling all over the dirty floor in a claustrophobic stall meant for someone half your size, while avoiding spiders and mosquitoes from targeting you for their all-buffet breakfast even before you’ve had a chance to eat yours.

Am I complaining? No. It took great skill and dexterity, plus advance planning in order to maintain some form of freshness in the wonderful wild. I was extremely proud of myself. For you novice campers, don’t forget to wear your flip-flops in the shower, bring a plastic bag for your wet clothes, and a mosquito clip to keep those bugs from eating you alive!

And, I’ll say this, it’s glorious to shower when on a camping trip. You realize and relish the importance of cold, clean water in your life. I’m a sole believer in the advocacy of clean water. Do what you can now to preserve this precious resource. It’s bad enough we have to slather ourselves in the guck of sunscreen against the harsh rays of the sun just to go outside due to the irresponsibility and neglect of our environment, but I’d hate to see the day when clean water simply ceases to exist.

But, aside from showering ballerina-style, we also enjoyed the commune of a kitchen tent, where we gathered to eat our grilled breakfasts, lunches, and dinners while reminiscing our turbulent and quick childhoods. And there’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee in the morning that you brewed yourself with only a fire and a metal can. (Beat that, Starbucks!)

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Family bonding during our camping trip, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Family bonding during our camping trip, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And of course, the kids were proud to showcase their scout-skills with the fine art of roasting the perfect marshmallow.

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Scoutmaster showing his troops how to build a campfire. Seems no one is paying attention, just anxious to roast their marshmallows. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.
Scoutmaster showing his troops how to build a campfire. Seems no one is paying attention, just anxious to roast their marshmallows. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.

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The boys roasting marshmallows. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The boys roasting marshmallows. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And though it rained a bit on our trip, the weather allowed us some real time to hide in our tents, rest, relax, and bond with our families—especially for my daughter who was shocked to realize we were actually going to sleep outside. She was even further shocked at the sight of our “huge night-light!”

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The kids getting ready for bed in their sleeping bags. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids getting ready for bed in their sleeping bags. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The trip was a wonderful opportunity to reunite with old family friends with whom we hadn’t gone camping with for more than 20 years. And it was also an opportunity to test our ability in facing nature head-on, which undoubtedly forced me to not only disconnect electronically, but to also reconnect with loved ones the old-fashioned way.

I was happy to discover just how intelligent and grown-up my younger brother turned out to be during our heart-to-heart conversation that not only changed my perspective and my life, but lasted until 3:00 a.m. over a campfire.

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My kid brother---who isn't a "kid" anymore. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My kid brother—who isn’t a “kid” anymore. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And I was able to spend some quiet, quality time with my daughter who had been missing me since she transferred to her own “big bed” earlier this year.

M. enjoying a quiet walk on Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
M. enjoying a quiet walk on Byng Island. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The trip overall, was a learning experience—and one, we, as a family, look forward to participating in again next year.

Here are some camping books you might like to consider for your next trip:

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

scaredy squirrel goes camping

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A Camping Spree with Mr. McGee by Chris Van Dusen

camping spree with mr magee

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Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids’ Guide by Lynn Brunelle

camp out ultimate kids guide

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The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson

the down and dirty guide to camping with kids

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Have you ever been on a camping trip?

What’s the worst or funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?

Recommend a great place to go camping.

Recommend a good book to read for a camping trip.

What’s your best camping tip?

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