Tag Archives: travel

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving 2014

October 14.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

In previous years, Thanksgiving was a time to anticipate a tabletop filled with a traditional feast: turkey as its centrepiece, mashed potato with cranberry sauce, roasted, buttered corn, thick lasagna, a creamy potato salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a little wine, and rich coffee with dessert.

But, the price to pay? A day or two in the kitchen, a potentially aggravating sit-in dinner with a few abrasive, tactless family members who are always compelled to criticize either your job, your spouse, your children, your looks, or your lack of any, and a bloated gut or terrible hangover from a few hours of enjoyable gluttony.

Thankfully, that did not happen this year.

This year, my husband and I, and our two children, rented a car for a few days, packed our bags, and travelled to Kingston, Ontario, to spend our Thanksgiving weekend with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, who we haven’t seen in a long time with our last visit to them over four years ago.

On our way, we stopped at Fairview Mall for an emergency bathroom break and happily discovered a LEGO store for the first time. My eldest son, Michael, a 10-year-old boy passionately obsessed with LEGO had a spaz attack! We spent a good half hour in the store checking out the latest box sets, admiring the coloured LEGO wall at the back, and building our own customized  mini-figures.


Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Together, we built three customized mini-figures for purchase, one meant to be a replica of my son with his medicine pouch and a weapon of choice to battle the “zombies” of the future Zombie Apocalypse; a Fairy Pie Godmother who brings pie to all LEGO-loving children of the world; and Gardenia, an avid reader, writer, and gardener:

The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The car ride was loud and enjoyable except for the traffic we were unfortunate enough to get stuck in while on the 401. Still, we gladly took the opportunity to stop at a service station at Trenton to have lunch before arriving to Kingston.

The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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[caption id="attachment_8859" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved. The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Once there, it was not only a relief to finally arrive, but to see my in-laws after so many years. There were happy tears, hugs, and a thoughtful dinner waiting for us.

Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While I was originally nervous about visiting them in respect to not seeing them in a number of years, but also because of the language barrier, once we arrived, their gracious hospitality and love made it so much easier to settle in—and stay.

We stayed for three days and two nights!

Each day was an opportunity for us to relax in our pyjamas, talk—really talk—and laugh, and ultimately spend quality time together as a family, which I found touching and rejuvenating.

Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The wonderful gift of my father-in-law and mother-in-law is not only their strong, personal faith, but how their faith is alive and active in their lives. Papá, who is a retired pastor, does more than spend his time preaching empty words without consequence or validation. His advice is not only usually faith-based, but sound because he is a living testament of what he believes in. Mamá, too, lives out her faith by action, not simply words. To have spent time with them even for a little while was to be a part of God’s loving grace.

Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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It is so refreshing to be a part of such an open and loving family.

On the one hand, Mamá and Papá, have very little financially. They don’t desire a large home, nor a luxury car of which to boast about to friends and family. They travel about once or twice a year to El Salvador, not for a vacation for themselves, but rather an opportunity to give to the poor and needy while there. And they feel no compulsion to own “bigger and better,” worldly things. They live quite simply and are always content with what they have. But, it isn’t because they can’t afford a lavish lifestyle—it’s because their mindset does not focus on the importance of materialism as one of their priorities.

And yet, they have so much of themselves to give emotionally. They are open and direct, but without the need to be condescending, critical, or controlling. While they want what’s best for their son, me, and their grandchildren, they always speak and act with love, kindness, and understanding.

Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We did not have a giant turkey for Thanksgiving or a lavish feast of any kind. Instead, we ate homemade soup with beef and vegetables, pupusas (a Salvadorean dish made of masa flour and mozzarella cheese with cortido, a cabbage, carrot, vinaigrette topping), mashed red bean, Salvadorean cheese, fried plantain with cream, and coffee and tea biscuits for dessert.

I spent some of my time braiding Mamá’s hair while the kids enjoyed running around the small apartment, and my husband helped Papá with the installation of Spanish accent shortcuts onto his computer/keyboard.

We also had the opportunity to see my brother-in-law, Eli, and visit his new home in Kingston. The kids took such a liking to his jokes and playfulness that they want to sleep over at his house next time we visit!

My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Aside from family time, I was also able to visit the artsy core of downtown Kingston. I discovered a nice, little bookstore called, A Novel Idea, where I picked up a Montreal Book Review publication, some Kingston Writers’ promotional cards, a few bookmarks, Kingston Art buttons, and some postcards.

All in all, it was a much-needed getaway from the city, an opportunity to enjoy a long car ride and the autumn sights, to spend some quality time with my husband’s family, and to also get some stationery shopping done, as well as some letter writing to a number of my penpals.

The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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This year, Thanksgiving was so much more than about eating turkey. It was as it’s meant to be, a time for thoughtful reflection and a time for giving sincere thanks for family, friends, good food, great company, and the love and grace of God and His many blessings.

Whatever faith you may have or however differently you may celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend! While I need not worry about a turkey gut, I’ve had my fill of other delicious foods and time well spent.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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How do you usually spend Thanksgiving?

What was most memorable about your Thanksgiving celebration this year?

If you could so something differently for next year, what would you like to do?

What are you most thankful for?

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zara - selfie 1

A Review: Hey Canada! Blog Tour

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A Review: Hey Canada! Blog Tour

06.25.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category:  Description and travel, Juvenile Literature

Author: Vivien Bowers

Illustrations by: Milan Pavlovic

Format: Hardcover, 74 pages

Publisher: Tundra Books

ISBN: 978-1-77049-255-4

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

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It doesn’t matter if you’re Canadian or not, this book, Hey Canada! is going to make you smile. And if you’re a blogger, you might even smile more!

The book is narrated by nine-year-old Alice who’s “writing [a] blog on Gran’s netbook,” about her coast-to-coast trip across Canada with Gran, her grandmother, her cousin, Cal, and their pet hamster.

The story moves from each province, starting in Newfoundland and travelling through each province and territory, outlining key places and facts about its culture, cultural sites, monuments, landmarks, history, nature and climate, animals, and geography—pretty much anything and everything, a potpourri of Canadian, encyclopaedic information—but it’s done in such a way that it’s both educational as well as fun to read for both children and adults.

It incorporates photography, cartoon graphics, and great sidebars that are both creative and fun, which include:

  • a Find It box that lists things you can find in each province
  • Cal’s Tweets
  • Hamster Updates
  • Cal’s Factoids

There’s even a periodical comic strip featured as Cal’s Historical U-Turn that explains a little background history explaining founders and origins for each province!

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be where it happily combines the realism of photographs to show the true context of key places and artefacts within each province along with the cartoon graphics of the book’s characters who, in their excited narrative, carry us, story-wise, from coast-to-coast.

Its humour and its layout is what makes this book a great grab. Because of the way it’s written and laid out, the reader can read the book from beginning to end, page-to-page, or randomly pick tidbits out and still thoroughly learn and enjoy new information about Canada and its provinces.

It’s also written in a narrative that children will understand and connect with while at the same time remain informative and entertaining to both children and adults.

Hey Canada! is a fun, creative, and informative book that reads like the adventure it claims and the discovery it promotes and would be a great addition to any personal library.

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Zara’s Rating

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For more information, you’re more than welcome to visit the author and illustrator’s websites here:

Vivien Bowers
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Milan Pavlovic
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And guess what? Cousin Cal has his own Twitter account!
Tweet, tweet, tweet!

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You can follow him and read his fun facts about Canada, here.
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There’s also a Twitter list that can help you track the Hey Canada! Blog Tour. Check out the hastag #HeyCanada for posts, too.
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And it gets better!

You could win a copy of the book on Goodreads so be sure to sign-up and enter!
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If you were to travel across Canada on a road trip, what places might you want to travel to the most?
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Asian Heritage Month: Children’s Feature: Books about Tibet

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Children’s Feature: Books about Tibet

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez/@ZaraAlexis

In light of Asian Heritage Month and Mother’s Day, the posts on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet will feature children’s books and stories about and originating from Asian countries every day of this week.

To not only celebrate the beauty of Asian culture, it’s also important to share cultural stories with children to broaden their understanding of the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity.

Today’s children feature is about books and stories about and originating from Tibet.

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All the Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet

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Category: Children’s/Tibet

Author: Barbara Helen Berger

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Philomel Books (imprint of Penguin Putnam Books)

ISBN: 0-399-23387-3

Pub Date: 2002

My Review :

All the Way to Lhasa is a retelling of a parable from Tibet as heard by the author and artist, Barbara Helen Berger from Lama Tharchin Rinpoche.

It is a quiet, meditative, and encouraging story of a young boy who would like to know how far it is to travel to the holy city of Lhasa.

The first boy is told that it is very far and so he rushes off into the distance, running towards the city of Lhasa with his horse.

The second boy is told that it is close enough to reach before night fall and so he takes one step and then another, plodding slowly with his yak.

The boy who took his time towards his goal was the one who was able to reach the city.

The book is exquisitely illustrated indicative of Asian art, Tibetan colours and symbols, the majesty of Lhasa as a holy city, and hints of the Tibetan prayer and meditation: Om mani padme hum.

It’s a beautiful and peaceful narrative that encourages young readers to continue faithfully and perseveringly towards their path.

Zara’s Rating

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The Mountains of Tibet

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Category: Children’s/Tibet

Authors: Mordicai Gerstein

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Harper & Row Publishers

ISBN: 0-06-022144-5

Pub Date: 1987

My Review:

The Mountains of Tibet by Mordecai Gerstein was the winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 1987.

It’s a story of reincarnation told in a step-by-step process by a conversation between a boy who grows into a man, dies, and then hears “a voice speaking to him.”

At each turn of the page, the man in given a choice to “become part” of something. First the universe, the galaxy, the planet, the species, the ethnicity, the place to live, to his choice of parents, and then whether or not he wants to be a boy or girl.

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It’s a wonderful story of inclusion as the man is given the freedom of choice at every turn and each choice displayed to him as equally good and valuable.

The illustrations, too, help to share the theme of inclusivity as the drawings are enclosed in a circle with pictures closely swirling and almost entwined in a theme of “togetherness.”

The Mountains of Tibet is kind introduction to children about the simple process of reincarnation, the cycle of life and death, and the beauty, gift, and value of all living things, living and working together in cooperative harmony.

Zara’s Rating

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To read more posts for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

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What’s one thing you appreciate most about Tibet and the Tibetan culture?

Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?

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My chinese name: Zhenrui