Category Archives: holiday post

Happy Birthday Canada—and Michael!

07.01.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The first of July is always a special day for our family, not only as proud Canadians, but as grateful parents.

Ten years ago to the day, I had my own set of fireworks—in labour. My son was born at 6:18 p.m. at 25 weeks and fought to survive at a mere 1 lb. and 8 oz. It was for him, a full three months in hospital, full intubation, and a number of life-threatening close calls.

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

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For the first four years of his young and fragile life, he suffered chronic lung disease, battling an incessant case of severe asthma attacks, having to visit our local hospital with a worrying amount of frequency and unfortunate familiarity. He had at his disposal a number of neonatologists and specialists interested in his care, a miracle baby who could provide statistics and current results to their medical and neonatalogical studies.

Ten years later, while the frequency in which he visits the hospital has largely decreased, colds and influenza still pose a threat as a main trigger to my son’s asthma.

Yet, he’s thrived as a young boy and we’re grateful that he’s reached this important milestone.

He’s a recent graduate from Grade 4; a thoughtful, creative, and active boy; one who loves to read books everyday; one who cares enough about the environment to help protect and care for it by actively reminding others to recycle products or participate in conserving energy; an obedient boy, but a talkative and extremely social one, too; one who loves to greet people he sees in passing, or to make new friends he meets at the park.

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

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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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Aside from loving to ride his bicycle, or playing with his younger sister outside, he’s obsessed with collecting LEGO minifigures and creating LEGO structures inspired by his active imagination.

(c) Michael's LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Michael’s LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

It’s with great pride and gratefulness that we wish our son, our miracle baby, a very happy 10th birthday—one he shares with Canada every year!

Michael's 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael’s 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.

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 Do you know anyone who was born at high risk and extremely premature?

Are you Canadian? How did you celebrate Canada Day on July 1st?

If you are Canadian, what do you love most about being Canadian?

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zara cat stamp

 

 

 

The Long Weekend Wasn’t Long Enough

05.21.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 The Victoria Day long weekend apparently wasn’t long enough—though it was filled with enough activity to actually keep me away from my computer and my blog.

On Friday, I made arrangements with my parents to pick up the kids straight after school so I could trek to York University (where I’m proud alumni) to meet my husband after work. While waiting for him to finish his work at York, I browsed the bookstore—and got a great deal on an official York University hoodie!

While reacquainting myself with the new architecture on campus and reminiscing on my years of study in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Women’s Studies, my husband and I decided to have a cheap, but bountiful dinner at The Falafel—chicken shabob with rice, salad, pita, and a drink—a favourite dish I had when I was back in college.

Our purpose of the night? To check out the play, Oh My Godzilla, by Asiansploitation, a comedy troupe my brother, Rjay Garcia, who is an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian, recently joined.

Esly, Zara, Rjay, Isabel after the play, "Oh My Godzilla" in which both Rjay and Isabel starred. (c) Photo by S. Kanaan. All rights reserved.
Esly, Zara, Rjay, Isabel after the play, “Oh My Godzilla” in which both Rjay and Isabel starred. (c) Photo by S. Kanaan. All rights reserved.

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We took the TTC to Downsview, got off at St. George, and walked east to The George Ignatieff Theatre on Devonshire Place.

What was exceptional that night, aside from the comedy of the play itself, was running into my nephew, Cedric, and his best friend, Mike, who I haven’t seen since Christmas.

Cedric, Zara, and Mike outside of The George Ignatieff Theatre. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Cedric, Zara, and Mike outside of The George Ignatieff Theatre. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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I was also able to finally meet my brother’s girlfriend’s mother, Tita Shirley,  and a few of her brothers, Philip and Alex, for the first time.

Philip, Izzy, Tita Shirley, and Alex at The George Ignatieff Theatre. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Philip, Izzy, Tita Shirley, and Alex at The George Ignatieff Theatre. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But, the highlight of my evening was being able to reunite with my long, lost best friend, Mae, who I lost touch with over time, and didn’t realize I haven’t seen in more than 13 years! We had grown up together, but became quite close in our university years.

Much to our relief, our personalities and chemistry hasn’t changed at all—so much so, the two of us together again felt very much like we hadn’t lost touch at all and that we started right where we left off! I was giddy all night and so pleased to connect with Mae again that we’ve already made plans to get together soon.

Best friends reunite. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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For my review on the play, Oh My Godzilla, check out my blog later this week (or next).

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The rest of the weekend, I took the opportunity to spend more quiet and intimate time with the kids—outdoors. We visited one of their favourite hotspots—McDonalds, of course, largely due to the Happy Meal, which provides happiness in the toy provided…and French Fries. For me, the real reason it’s a Happy Meal is because it always keeps the kids smiling.

Why it's really called a "Happy Meal." (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Why it’s really called a “Happy Meal.” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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After lunch at McDonalds, we visited one of our favourite family spots—Kariya Park in Mississauga.

Usually around this time in May, the Sakura trees are blooming with flowers, but not so this year. With the past, harsh winter, the blossoming flowers were delayed and it seemed we came too early in our visit to see them bloom. While there weren’t any flowers, we nevertheless enjoyed ourselves: our traditional walk around the small trail, our visit to the pond, our greetings to the geese, and our family poses.

Michael by the Kariya Pond. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael by the Kariya Pond. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara by the commemorative bell in Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara by the commemorative bell in Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The kids in front of children statue in Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids in front of children statue in Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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

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As if one park wasn’t enough, we also made a trip to Gage Park, a popular spot for families situated in the center of downtown Brampton. While the children usually release all their energy on the playground, my husband and I usually enjoy a picnic reading or walking the roundabout appreciating all the new foliage come spring.

Gage Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Gage Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara taking a break on the park bench after a whirlwind of play on the playground at Gage. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara taking a break on the park bench after a whirlwind of play on the playground at Gage. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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This long weekend really couldn’t keep us inside. After BBQ hot dogs, we all hung out in our backyard and enjoyed the sun and the company of our neighbours (and a very feisty dog named Princess.) The kids played LEGO, tag, and hula hoops with Savion, Kierta, and Gracie, while my husband and I wondered where our kids get all their energy…

Xara with her hula hoop. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara with her hula hoop. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael sharing his LEGO creations with his friends, Savion and Kierta. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael sharing his LEGO creations with his friends, Savion and Kierta. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara reading quietly in the backyard. Notice her "Elsa" cape from the movie, "Frozen?" (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara reading quietly in the backyard. Notice her “Elsa” cape from the movie, “Frozen.” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But, that wasn’t the end of our weekend. It’s been a constant celebration in our house right from Mother’s Day, to celebrating my 13th year anniversary with my husband from the day we first met on May 14—

(c) Photos and photo collage by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photos and photo collage by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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—to celebrating my husband’s birthday on May 20!

His day started by taking the kids to school in the morning, a special treat for all of us, and then a hearty birthday lunch at Spoonful, a buffet restaurant in which I ate far too much than I should have. (I actually ate so much that I conceived a six-month food baby!)

Walking to school with Daddy. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Walking to school with Daddy. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Birthday Boy, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Birthday Boy, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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My plate filled with great food from Spoonful Restaurant. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
My plate filled with great food from Spoonful Restaurant. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.

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And in the evening, even though Esly and I were both full from a gluttonous lunch, we celebrated with a small birthday cake—Xara and Michael’s favourite part of birthdays!

Esly's birthday cake, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Esly’s birthday cake, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Birthday Boy with the kids, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Birthday Boy with the kids, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Because my husband is such a mellow, down-to-earth, and private person, he never asks for much on his birthday—especially for his birthday, but it’s with gratitude to God that God has given him life and many years to enjoy it, and to me, a tender, loving, and steadfast husband, and to the children, a strong, responsible, and affectionate father. We’re so blessed.

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What did you do for the Victoria Day long weekend?

Do you celebrate Victoria Day with fireworks?

How is it that the long weekend is never long enough?

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zara cat stamp

Mother’s Day Weekend

05.13.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

The second Sunday in May is a sentimental celebration for a lot of women—the arrival of spring, the birth of better weather and the bloom of flowers, and a day to recognize and honour the gift of motherhood.

Not everyone is privileged to be a mother, but everyone is certainly born of one.

I’m blessed to be privileged of both.

If you know me personally or if you’re a keen follower of my blog, you’ll know that a key part of my identity and pride is deeply rooted in my two children, Michael and Mercedes.

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

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But, it certainly hasn’t been an easy road to (and sometimes through) motherhood.

While most in my family highly suspected pregnancy as a reason for my “shotgun” wedding to my husband almost 13 years ago, it wasn’t actually easy for me to conceive. We had, if anything, not thought of having children until quite later in life in the plan of first fully enjoying our independence as a newly married couple. And then when my “biological clock” started ticking (and ticking loudly), my desire to have a child was as natural as it was thrilling—and frightening.

Both of my pregnancies were extremely difficult. I was told on both occasions that I had miscarried. And then in my first pregnancy, I  went into pre-term labour at a mere 25 weeks (six months), which brought upon severe complications for my son and exhaustion and hardship for myself and my husband. My little one was in hospital for three months before he could come home.

Because of the nature of my first pregnancy, I was classified as a high-risk patient and had to be under the care and keen supervision of a neonatologist. This meant more appointments, tests, and restrictions than other women throughout each trimester and a cervical suture operation in order to help carry my second baby further along in pregnancy. Even with this surgery, my daughter still came early.

But, the joy of having children far outweighs my negative experiences with having them.

My son, Michael, who is almost 10-years-old is a sensitive, caring, and extremely obedient boy. While he’s known to talk a lot, speak loudly, and be somewhat hyperactive (which can carry its own burdens)—Michael is always the first to notice others’ needs before his own and the most willing to sacrifice for others out of his depth of compassion. He’s also a keen activist for the environment, which surprised me considering his age. And he is thoughtful and extremely loving, traits I am absolutely grateful for and proud of.

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

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My daughter, Mercedes, who is almost 5-years-old is feisty, rambunctious, and self-assured, which is admirable, but can also be weary and a constant test of my patience. She is, however, extremely affectionate and tender when in the right mood and will often give me the sweetest and most thoughtful compliments when most needed. And if anything, the things she often says will just make me laugh!

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

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While mothers never stop being mothers, working hard to not only raise their children well on a daily basis, but to also advocate fiercely on their behalf, and simply loving, and enjoying who they are in the journey of parenthood—Mother’s Day is a wonderful day to focus on the gift of what it is to be a mother and to also have one.

This Mother’s Day weekend, I celebrated with my mom, my sister, and my immediate family with a quiet, but filling lunch—potluck at my parents’ house that included traditional, Filipino, celebratory dishes like rice, Pancit, Pinakbit, Lumpia, spicy chicken, salad, Dulce Neopolitan cake, and Fudge cake.

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

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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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(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 of course, Mother’s Day isn’t complete without those thoughtful gifts that you receive from your children! This year, I was really pleased to receive exceptionally creative gifts!

Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes who is in Junior Kindergarten and just learning to write her alphabet made me a card that says:

My Mom [is] recognizable because she loves me.

I also got a wonderfully creative paperweight from my daughter. She proudly told me:

Mama, you know what I got you for Mother’s Day? A ROCK! I painted it green so it wouldn’t be ugly. I got it outside when I was exploring and I decorated it in Craft. Do you like it? You can use if on your papers.

I love it!

My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And Michael made me a homemade frame to house a picture of himself and a candle. He also went out of his way to buy me the Jennifer Aniston perfume I liked with his own money.

He told me:

Mama, I bought you this, but Papa paid for the tax!

Yay! Now, I have a beautifully framed picture of my son that I set on my desk to remind me of him, a candle that I can light when I want to make the atmosphere more mellow, and perfume that I love (and makes me smell like Jennifer Aniston!).

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

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Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Overall, it was a quiet Mother’s Day with a trip to one of my favourite hot spots—Kariya Park—where I enjoy the tranquility and beauty of cherry blossom trees and the blessings of being a mother to two, amazing kids!

Me, at Kariya Park on Mother's Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Me, at Kariya Park on Mother’s Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To all the beautiful and loving mothers out there, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day filled with gestures to remind you of how much you are loved and appreciated.

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How do you celebrate Mother’s Day?

Are you close to your mother? How did you celebrate who she is and all she has been in your life on her special day?

Are you a mother? What do you love most about being a mom?

What did you receive for Mother’s Day? What special gestures of love did you receive on Mother’s Day?

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zara cat stamp

Happy Belated Easter to Christians and Every-“Bunny”

08.22.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For Christians, Easter is the most important celebration in the Christian faith.

It commemorates the resurrection of the Savior, Lord Jesus Christ, from the grave, the centre in which the Christian faith rests its beliefs—that Jesus was crucified on the cross, having died on behalf of humankind’s sins, instead of humankind itself (thus saving humankind from the wrath of God, sparing them instead to a chance at a fulfilling relationship with God and eternal life)—to rise back to life three days later, proof of not only His deity, but of His power over evil and death.

Easter, for Christians, is more than an Easter-Egg-Hunt, but a deep reflection on the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of humankind out of endearing love and compassion.

It is a day to not only honour God specifically for the damnation mankind has been spared from, but the life mankind has been lovingly given—a gratefulness that springs up from the heart of every Christian in his or her trust, faith, and love in God.

That said, it is my belief there is no harm in giving children an opportunity for fun and treats in the act of an exciting Egg Hunt for colourful surprises including delectable chocolate.

Here are some great Easter books especially for children to celebrate with:

Jesus Rose on Easter Morn

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easter story

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god gave us easter

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pete the cat big easter adventure

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pinkalicious eggstraordinary easter

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happy easter curious george

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veggie tales easter collection

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This year, my children and my husband and I enjoyed a quiet, but eventful Easter weekend, enjoying the blessing God has given us in the birth of wonderful and long-awaited spring weather and an opportunity to purchase bicycles for our family’s recreational use to travel to our local grocery store, doctor’s office, or city park.

Me FIRST bicycle ever. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Me FIRST bicycle ever. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

From my little bunnies, to yours—we hope you had a blessed and happy Easter not only filled with chocolate eggs or chocolate bunnies, but also quality time to spend with loved ones, and a relaxing opportunity to enjoy a good book!

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

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Do you celebrate Easter?

Is there a special way you celebrate Easter with your family?

What did you do over this Easter long-weekend?

What’s your favourite Easter recipe or treat?

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zara cat stamp

Wear Pink: Fight Bullying

02.26.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Today is Pink T-Shirt Day as a way of showing support in fighting against bullying in all shapes and forms, be it in the schoolyard, the workplace, at home, or online.

While my four-year-old daughter shows her support in this way every day (since pink is her favourite colour), she was especially pleased to hear that others would join her in wearing pink, too.

My son took part in Pink T-Shirt Day a few years ago and was sadly bullied for wearing pink. He’s had to overcome the stigma associated with a boy wearing pink and what it means to fight against bullying, not only on this particular day, but on a daily basis.

If you didn’t participate in Pink T-Shirt Day this year, it doesn’t mean you can’t join the community in agreeing to commit to action by speaking out against violence in the form of bullying.

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Were you ever a victim of bullying as a child?

How do you think you can you best affect change when it comes to battling bullying in the schoolyard as a student, a parent, a teacher?

Did you wear pink today?

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zara cat stamp

Do You Have the Heart for Valentine’s Day?

02.17.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For a lot of people, Valentine’s can bring about a lot of angst if not sadness. Valentine’s Day for a single person or a recently-made single person can be a brutal reminder of not only singlehood, but of the pressures to be in the epiphany of couplehood and in the throes of a deeply romantic relationship.

This complex had started for me at a very young age. As much as I loved receiving a number of perforated rectangular cards with cupid bows, red hearts, and cute carton bumblebees that said silly things like, Bee Mine—yes, I was only in Junior Kindergarten—it had hurt me very deeply not to receive a Valentine’s Day card from everyone in my class.

Later, Valentine’s Day had taken on a new kind of burden. Feeling as if I was the only one amongst my friends who was not only single, but certainly singled out with a fury of condescending pity for not having a partner—any partner.

While I was relatively successful: a graduate with both a university degree and a sense of accomplishment and optimism for the future, a new job in a prolific investment firm,  and continually active in the writing community, with a number of friends of whom I had a strong relationship—I was, however, eluded by the opportunity of romance.

It was something I later learned how to accept, having dated a number of men I found mutually intelligent, artistic, amicable, even compatible, but could not muster myself to be severely passionate about. The dates seemed more of a time filler for weekend companionship, but a waiting station always for something potentially better.

couple-valentines-day

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And so, Valentine’s Day, had always remained for me an elusive holiday, a harsh reminder of my social impediment, a missing partner much like a missing limb, something I attributed to either my poor luck or poor looks, reasons that I were later told were actually unreasonable.

But, I braved the holiday all in its red and pink verbosity, its clip-winged cupids, its heart-shaped chocolates, its over-priced flowers, and “I Love You” stuffed toys. I coped by deciding to participate in the fun, rather than be excluded by it, so I consciously wore red, gritted my teeth, bought myself some beautiful lilies, and enjoyed a beautiful meal with matching wine, and gorged on some decadent chocolate. I even went so far as to buy myself a favourite Valentine’s gift—a book of poetry.

I figured even if I wasn’t in a relationship, I could still honour the celebration of love and love for myself. A cliché? Perhaps, but the essence of Valentine’s Day thrives on that very cliché.

This year, while I’ve grown to expect some form of romantic courtship from my husband of 14 years, Valentine’s Day has lost some of its ideological lustre.

I think whether you’re single or in a partnership, the only advice I can give is to have the heart for Valentine’s Day, to take the time to reflect on relationship, your needs, your desires, and to be grateful for love in its many forms—plus to treat yourself to some indulgence even if it doesn’t include wearing red or eating chocolate hearts.

You could even go further by compassionately sharing that love with someone in need by turning the day into one of action. Perhaps that means volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home. Perhaps it means paying a visit to a relative you haven’t seen or talked to in a number of months or years. Perhaps it means adopting a pet from an animal shelter or buying a coffee for the person behind you at a café. There are a number of ways in which Valentine’s Day can become more that an exclusive celebration of romance.

(And if Valentine’s Day wasn’t what you desired it to be this time around, you can take comfort in the reminder that February 14 will certainly come again next year!)

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What’s the best Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had?

What’s the worst Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had?

How do you think you’d like to celebrate it next year?

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zara cat stamp

The Groundhog Has Spoken

02.03.3014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

As tradition dictates, yesterday was Groundhog Day, the day when a city’s specially appointed groundhog must do its annual, prophetic duty—search for its shadow. While my own shadow usually tends to make me look a lot slimmer than I really am, the groundhog’s shadow has a lot more riding on it.

According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will see its own shadow and return to its burrow, and winter weather will continue for six more weeks!

For Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, that’s a lot of weather prediction pressure. I mean, the poor guy just wants to step out of his burrow.

wiarton willie

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Imagine, wanting to go outside to pick up your morning paper and a population is outside your doorstep, anxiously wondering whether or not you’re wearing pyjamas, a bathrobe, or track pants, and a sweatshirt? And imagine if you actually haven’t had your morning cup of coffee yet? My hair would probably be in disarray and then I’d most likely end up screaming at people strewn across my driveway not to step on the snow because it’ll only be harder to shovel now that they’ve trampled all over it.

But, for Wiarton, John Close, the mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, had to listen carefully in on Wiarton Willie’s unfortunate verdict at 8:07 a.m. because Wiarton did indeed see his shadow. It loomed so large, he pretty much made a run for the comfort of his burrow. And I would, too, considering the 139 cm of snow in January alone and the minus 40 degrees temperatures that make us all empathize with even the bravest in winter—the snowmen.

Brrr! said Wiarton in Groundhogese. Screw this! I’m going back to my burrow. You guys deal with six more weeks of winter. See what you get when you try to coerce me out of my house?

Folklore or not, I have faith in the little guy. Winter has had its toll on me, what with snow squalls, wind gusts, low visibility, black ice, the Polar Vortex, a number of car wipeouts, and my reoccurring bout with arthritis. I’ve even succumbed to wearing long johns—and I don’t wear long underwear.

While I don’t place blame on Wiarton—why shoot the messenger?—I do, however, raise my mittened-fists at winter, which is adamant enough to try to spite me for another six more weeks.

With one shovel in my hand and cough drops in another, I tell my two, young children the news that Wiarton Willie so gravely gave yesterday. And you know what they did? They happily put on their snow pants, boots, scarves, and mittens—and conspired to build the largest snow fort in the country.

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What do you plan on doing with six more weeks of winter?

Do you celebrate Groundhog Day or do you prefer to count on Environment Canada for your weather forecasts?

How do you feel about Wiarton Willie’s prediction?

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zara cat stamp

It’s Chinese New Year: The Year of the Horse

01.31.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Chinese building, Mississauga Centre. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
Chinese building, Mississauga Centre. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.

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Also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, the Chinese New Year is an important, traditional Chinese holiday that is observed from the New Moon of the new year and lasts until the full moon on the 15th day, which is called the Lantern Festival.

While traditions vary from region to region, it is customary for families to clean their homes thoroughly the night before as an act to sweep away any ill-fortune and make way for incoming good luck.

Chinese families come together for what is known as an annual, reunion dinner in which they remember and honour their ancestors with thanksgiving. Originally, this was practiced with religious ceremony to honour Heaven and Earth and the gods of a household, while the ancestors are acknowledged with dinner placed for them at the banquet table, which is called weilu and symbolizes family unity.

Windows and doors are decorated with poems on red paper that encourage blessings for the New Year. A popular example of this is, May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth, and the Start of Longevity shine on you.

Other decorations include blooming plants, which symbolizes rebirth and wealth. Should a plant blossom on New Year’s Day in a home, it prophesizes a year filled with prosperity. Oranges and tangerines with an enclosed lai is usually taken when visiting family or friends during the 15-day Chinese celebration. They represent your relationship with your family member or friend remains secure.

Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness. There is also a candy tray, which is usually arranged in a circle or octagon to start the New Year sweetly. The tray is called The Tray of Togetherness. After taking pieces of candy from the tray, it is customary for people to place a red envelope in the center of the tray. Examples of candies and what they represent are as follows:

  • melon: growth, good health
  • red melon seed: joy, truth, sincerity
  • lychee nut: strong family realtionships
  • cumquat: prosperity
  • coconut: togetherness
  • peanuts: long life
  • longnan: many good sons
  • lotus see: many children

At midnight, every door and window is opened to allow the old year to leave in order to welcome the new one in. Red is usually worn on this festive oaccasion ensured to bring the wearer a bright future. And children, unmarried friends, and close relatives are given lai see, small red envelopes with money inside (usually one dollar), for good fortune.

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The Year of the Horse

The Chinese Zodiac called Sheng Xiao is based on a 12-year cycle where each year in that cycle is associated with an animal sign.

chinese zodiac

The animal signs include:

  • rat
  • ox
  • tiger
  • rabbit
  • dragon
  • snake
  • horse
  • sheep
  • monkey
  • rooster
  • dog
  • pig

horse

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The spirit of the horse is to make efforts to improve himself. The horse is energetic, warm, intelligent, and able, which is considered as a Qianli Ma, “a horse that covers a thousand li a day.”

Strengths of the Horse

People born in the year of the horse are excellent communicators who enjoy being in the limelight. They are clever, kind, cheerful, though they are known to tend to talk too much. They enjoy entertaining large crowds, are popular with friends, and active at work, who refuse to succumb to failure. Weaknesses of  the Horse The horse cannot bear too much restraint. And their interest may only be superficial, lacking real substance. They can be impatient and hot-tempered especially about their daily work. Because they are independent, they rarely listen to advice. While they are flamboyant, they also tend to be wasteful, not especially good with finances. They also tend to interfere and frequently fail to finish projects on their own.

The Year of the Horse in 2014

This year is considered to be the Year of Birth, Benming Nian, a year to offend Taisui, the god thought to oversee people’s fortune. This year, fortune will fluctuate, be unstable, and will require care. It is suggested that faced with difficulties, strength should be sought as well as good behaviour. It would be more beneficial to be confident rather than insecure, to connect more with family than to complain to colleagues.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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Do you celebrate Chinese New Year?

Which part of the Chinese New Year celebrations do you find most intriguing?

Which animal are you in the Chinese Zodiac?

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zara cat stamp

Happy Birthday to Me!

zara red hair avatar - happy bday to me

Happy Birthday to Me!

01.06.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

When I was a kid I wanted nothing more than to “grow up,” get older, and move on with my life, speed it up a little to the pace that belonged to adulthood. And then adulthood came and it was a lot harder than I had expected. Since then, I’ve been subconsciously regressing each year of my life, not trying to emulate youth, but to preserve the best parts of it—with maturity.

And now with two children, aging has become less graceful as I once believed it to be, but rather a sharp reminder and ticking countdown of the remainder of days I have left before my life passport expires. While it’s often a miracle and a joy to witness the ever-changing nuances of my children, it’s in each passing milestone that I’m reminded of my limited time with them—that one day I won’t be around.

Age does that to you, too: reality (and the Grim Reaper) gives you a slight tap on the shoulder that may sometimes leave a trace of cynicism. But, I’m not there yet—though I have often shown signs of aging like:

  • discovering gray hair in places I never thought would be gray hair…like my eyebrows
  • not recognizing the artists and musicians featured on the MTV Awards
  • comfortable singing along to a 70’s track—and then realizing the radio station is simply featuring an “Oldie, But Goodie” tribute to the 70’s
  • discovering an impatience and deep irritation to teenagers’ “antics” like loud bravado, incessant cursing, and “strange” fashion choices
  • an inability to stay past 1:00 a.m. without complete exhaustion
  • a lack of interest in “partying” as opposed to “relaxing and staying in”
  • a heightened sensitivity to loud noise
  • nausea when riding a roller coaster
  • tracking physical ailments in order to have a clear, medical history—for the next physical ailment expected to come along
  • squinting even with prescribed eyeglasses on
  • forgetfulness…often
  • the need to write almost everything down to curb that forgetfulness
  • crows’ feet (and the one’s I’m talking about aren’t on crows)
  • permanent callouses regardless of how much ointment and creams I use, or how many pedicures I have
  • consideration and concerns about pension, life insurance, early retirement, and my will
  • reminiscing and nostalgia as a popular pastime
  • a great disdain for misspelled words, an insurgence of online acronyms, and the loss or dying art of letter-writing and natural penmanship
  • genuine surprise when your children begin to refer to you as “old”
  • a predisposition to “complaining” and “self-pity”

***

Well, the good news is…I’m not dead…yet!

And a great consequence of having a birthday is celebrating it. Because my actual birthday falls on a weekday this year, my husband treated my immediate family to lunch on the weekend. And food, especially great food, has always brought my family together for some festive fun.

Spoonful Restaurant. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Spoonful Restaurant. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Happy birthday to me. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Happy birthday to me. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael excited to try the Spoonful menu for the very first time. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael excited to try the Spoonful menu for the very first time. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara ready for her first plate. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara ready for her first plate. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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So glad it's buffet. There's more where this came from. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
So glad it’s buffet. There’s more where this came from. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And now for dessert! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
And now for dessert! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael enjoying fries. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael enjoying fries. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael and Elias playing. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael and Elias playing. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Thanks to my husband for hosting my birthday lunch. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.
Thanks to my husband for hosting my birthday lunch. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.

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Us on my birthday. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.
Us on my birthday. (c) Photo by Caesar S. Garcia. All rights reserved.

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My family. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My family. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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A wonderful bonus to becoming a year older is also receiving gifts. Because my birthday is in January, it’s much like celebrating Christmas—twice! Thanks to Mom and Dad for fuzzy, leopard print slippers and a monetary gift to aid my shopping habit. The fuzzy slippers go perfectly with my leopard pants and are cozy to warm up in since our hardwood floors are so cold in the winter. Thanks to my sister, Riz, my brother-in-law, Joe, and Elias for my new Joshua Perets leopard print purse, a leopard print robe, and a Burt’s Bees lip balm and lotion set. The only thing I love almost as much as leopard printed things and nail polish are purses! And I’m privileged to own a Joshua Perets designer bag. As for the robe, I’m wearing it right now because it’s so soft and cozy.  And you’ve completely converted me to Burt’s Bees products. The replenishing, pomegranate lip balm is so smooth and 100% all-natural that I actually look forward to putting it on…and on…and on… Thanks so much, you guys. I love you—and my presents!

And because the day isn’t over yet, I look forward to celebrating again tonight with a special birthday dinner, cake, and more presents from my husband and the kids! (My daughter has been waiting to eat my birthday cake all weekend.)

Aside from that, I think I’ll be spoiling myself with a mani/pedi, a warm bath, a glass of wine, and a good book. In my “old” age, I’ve learned to enjoy the simplicity of things.

Thanks to all for taking the time out of your day to wish me well either in person, on the phone, or on Facebook and/or Twitter today. It’s especially nice to be thought of and remembered on your special day.

(Now, if I can only figure out which wish I’d like to make…)

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What’s the most memorable birthday celebration you’ve ever had?

What’s the most thoughtful birthday present you’ve ever received?

What age do you think you’ve enjoyed the most or think you might enjoy the most?

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zara stamp

It’s 2014. Now, What?

zara red hair avatar - welcome 2014

It’s 2014. Now, What?

01.02.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I usually greet the New Year with anticipation and “happiness,” and I did pretty good job for most of New Year’s Eve 2014. While it is more important for my family and I to spend New Year’s Eve in a quiet way as we usually do, we usually don’t welcome the New Year without some good food, sweet wine, and an even better attitude. The plan was to enjoy a good meal and spend the rest of 2013 participating in a movie marathon.

The kids enjoying our New Year's Eve slumber party. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids enjoying our New Year’s Eve slumber party. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We had pasta salad, potatoes, roasted chicken, wild rice, samosas, red velvet cake, egg tarts, coffee, and blush wine. The children were already dressed in their pyjamas, the sleeping bags were on the floor ready for our slumber party—Daddy even wore his lamb onesie with matching lamb plush toy—but then, I called my parents and we soon realized they were alone for New Year’s Eve.

Daddy in his lamb onesie---and yes, it even has a tail! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Daddy in his lamb onesie—and yes, it even has a tail! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We quickly packed our food, our clothes, and our toys into our car and raced toward my parents’ place to help them meet and greet the New Year with some company. The children were a little tired by this time, but they were able to take part in our cultural and family tradition of “throwing coins in the air” once New Year hit. We counted down to the New Year, threw our coins in the air, and greeted one another with hugs and kisses. (We even witnessed my usually-private-parents in an intimate New Year’s kiss!)

And then the children were able to open some presents from their grand aunt, Mama Li,  that they had missed opening on Christmas, so it surely felt that the holidays weren’t yet over. Michael was thrilled to receive a LEGO Star Wars ATRT Playset while Xara was overwhelmed with a number of great gifts including a cozy hoodie, perfect for school with a matching winter hat, a pink turtleneck, Dora pyjamas, a Princess puzzle, a porcelain tea set, and Hello Kitty stationery! Thanks Mama Li and Papado! Your gifts certainly made the New Year bright for the kids.

Michael with his new LEGO Star Wars set. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with his new LEGO Star Wars set. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael ripped open his new LEGO Star Wars set and he built it in less than 10 minutes! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael ripped open his new LEGO Star Wars set and he built it in less than 10 minutes! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara playing with her tea set with her grandparents. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara playing with her tea set with her grandparents. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Little "Agnes" from the movie, "Despicable Me." (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Little “Agnes” from the movie, “Despicable Me.” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While all this was wonderfully fun, the New Year had yet to unveil more of its surprises—and some of them, not so good. Around 4:00 a.m. in the morning, I woke to great stomach and back pain only to realize later that I was struck with a bad case of food poisoning. A few hours after that, my daughter woke up vomiting. The entire day—yes, the very first day of the year of 2014—my daughter and I were quite ill.

It’s only today that I was able to get up from being completely bedridden, which is why my first post of the New Year is actually on January 2nd.

But, it is a new year, so best to try to have a positive attitude even when caught in negative circumstances. There’s only 364 days left to enjoy until 2015 rolls along. Here are some plans I look forward to implementing in 2014:

1. Re-focus my energy on my children.

Rather than truly be present in my children’s lives last year, I seemed to have whizzed by in a flurry of stress, paying only a portion of attention to them. While all their needs were met, I know as a parent, I could have been more present and involved in their interests. This year, my kids come first. (This may mean I will sit down and play with my children first before thinking about doing chores.)

2. Anger Management.

It’s more than just a movie. It should be a way of life. For those of you who don’t know (and can’t tell), I do have a quick temper. In retrospect of 2013, I know that I’ve “huffed” and I’ve “puffed” in response to things I didn’t like. There are better ways to expend my energy, I think. And this year, I plan on controlling my negative emotions in a more positive way.

3. Read and review books more consistently.

Last year, I was struck with unexpected illnesses and family issues, which put up a great road block in helping me succeed in reading the number of books I had planned to read. Instead, I ploughed through one book at a time as painstakingly as I could muster, and failed to meet my yearly book-reading pledge. It’s a new year and a new chance to clean that slate and begin again! Books, books, books. This bibliotaphe plans on reclaiming her name again. Here’s to a new page, a new chapter, and a new bookshelf to discover.

4. Opening my social circle.

When you’re a natural introvert, it isn’t easy to open yourself up to new people. But, it’s a new year, which means, I look forward to building new and healthy relationships—and maintaining them. (Hello, gatherings, here I come!)

5. Eat less and eat better.

Most people begin diets at the beginning of the year, but after I experienced an extremely bad bout of food poisoning, it seems mandatory. While I refuse to technically go on a diet, I do plan on being more mindful the next time I have the urge to “stuff my face” with food. And yes, I’ll take that second-helping of veggies vs. cake, please.

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What do you look forward to in 2014?

Do you plan on making some changes?

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