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Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 03.25.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Live in a bookish home

When I was six years old, a young woman with a briefcase came into my home and spoke to my parents over a cup of coffee. And from her briefcase, she laid out on our small kitchen table, glossy brochures. As she spoke, my parents nodded, enthusiastic, calling whatever they were about to do, an “investment.” My father wrote out a cheque and a week later the woman came back with boxes. These boxes changed my life.

My father opened up the packages and in sequential order, placed the beautifully binded encyclopedias on our bookcase. There was a set from A to Z, two separate dictionaries, and an index. My father read each volume from cover to cover until he completed the set.

The other set, the Childcraft Encyclopedia, was dedicated to me and I was encouraged to read as my father did, each volume to my liking.

So I did.

It was with awe that I sat in my room discovering the secrets within the pages of the book I had opened. It was with each word that I grew powerful. I could finally translate what the letters meant. I could pronounce with a little hesitation, new words that were heavy, but playful in my mouth. Slowly, the sentences became verses. The verses soon became paragraphs. And the paragraphs into chapters. And at the end of each story, I was filled with a knowledge of something fantastic—so imaginative, yet real, it comforted me more than the world I lived in. Books had become my playground, my solace, my secret friends.

While other children complained when prompted to read in school, I secretly looked forward to it. I did my homework because I had to. I read my books because I loved to.

My school librarian was my heroine. And when the annual Scholastic Book Fair came around, I was ready and eager in the front of the line with my pencil in hand. My family couldn’t really afford books, so I knew my choices were limited. I would have to be frugal, but wise. As I searched the tables, I found a book with a picture of a girl, a spider, and a pig.


At home my mother asked me how the Book Fair went and if I found anything that I liked. I was shy about my choice, eager to own it, unsure if my mother or father would agree to buy it, guilty that it might cost them more than they could really afford.

I pulled my Scholastic order form out of my hand-sewn knapsack and thrust it out to my mother in hope my urgency would be expressed in that one act.

“‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B. White…that looks like a good one. Let’s go and see what your father thinks.”

My encyclopedia-reading father who routinely and adamantly sat me down at the dining table to write out my ABC’s everyday would surely be my ally. (Until this day, I am frequently complimented on my “graceful” and “elegant” penmanship—so much so, I have been asked if I could turn it into a font!)

My father looked at my one-item list, pulled cash from his wallet and said, “Remember to always spend this wisely. There will be things you will want to buy, but a book will always be something you need. Remember, a book will always be better than a toy.”

I had no complaints. I had toys and I played with them. But, what my father didn’t know at the time of his advice was that books were already my secret treasure. I didn’t read books because I had to, I read them because there were stories in them that needed telling, that needed reading. So, as a child, I read voraciously. My appetite grew with each finished novel, each new, explored genre.

My second home would be the local library. I was eight when my father helped me apply for my very first library card. It was the most valuable thing in my wallet. It grew creases with age as my book lists grew and my tote bags lugged with weight.

Brampton Four Corners Public Library, upper level (they removed the computers, but there was an old computer there at the pole where I used to check the database for books---it was still in DOS format!).

Years later, my library has grown, but I still own the Childcraft Encyclopedia set that my parents bought for me, I still have the original copy of the “Charlotte’s Web” book that I bought from the school Book Fair.

If anything, I am proud to say I’m an avid reader. It isn’t a go-to line as much as it is a short biography. I am an avid reader and have been so since I was a child.

I’m an avid reader. I’m a book borrower.

I’m a bibliotaphe.

I’m one of those people who puts books on hold at the library two months in advance so that I can be one of the privileged few to get my hands on new releases before they come off press.

I’m one of those people who will sit in an aisle at a book store and forget I am there because I’m enthralled with what I’m reading. (I finished reading the poems in “The Blizzard of One” by Mark Strand in one sitting.)

BLIZZARD OF ONE by Mark Strand. Pulitzer Prize winner.

I’m one of those people who will ignore my telephone so that I can finish reading the end of a line or the end of a chapter.

I’m one of those people who organizes my books by author, genre, or emotional attachment.

I’m one of those people who miss literary characters once a book has ended.

Tristan & Iseult

I’m one of those people who has piles of books in each and every room of my house.

I am also one of those people who will shrug off a date in order to go to a book signing, a poetry reading, a wine and cheese party, or literary gala.

And I am also one of those people whose awe in meeting an author in person is equivalent to the hysteria found in others for famous rock stars and starlets found in Hollywood.

"Oh my God, IT'S Michael Ondaatje!!"

I’m one of those people who knows the different names, literary genres, and styles of publishers who print and distribute the books that I love.

I’m one of those people who collects bookmarks and isn’t ashamed about it.

My growing collection of bookmarks.

I’m one of those people who loves the feel and smell of a new book.

I’m one of those people who will stay up late into the wee hours of the night in order to finish reading a book, finish writing a review, and post it onto my book blog.

My love of books has not only inspired me to write this blog entry, but to imagine what it would it be like if I could transform my actual living space into bookish delight.

I’d like to live in a book house.

On Paper Avenue.

With pens as my picket fence.

My book house would have book stairs:

A book nook closet:

A book bed:

And a book desk.

I’d read under a book chandalier:

Take a shower behind a written page:

And watch my paper flowers bloom.

I’d “unscramble” my pillows:

Keep myself “literally” warm with this scarf:

I’d jot my thoughts about books into these:

And when I’m done, carry them all in this typewriter tote bag.

Sure, I want books under the tree at Christmas time. But, I love books so much, I’d want to make my Christmas tree out of books as well.

And instead of giving my daughter a Barbie, I’d buy her, her very own Margaret Atwood doll:

And when I travel, I much prefer to pack these in my luggage instead of clothes:

Forget the old lady who lived in a Shoe.

I’m the dame who wants to live in a Book!




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 03.25.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Keeping my 50-book pledge for 2012

The savvy readers at The Savvy Reader have motivated hundreds of book lovers again this year by calling out a 50-Book Pledge in 2012.

This is my first time pledging to anything other than my marriage vows ten years ago, so as you can see, I mean business.

50-books kinda business.

Here are my 50 hopefuls for this year:

1. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – READ

2. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht – OWN, TO READ

3. The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay – OWN, READ

4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – OWN, TO READ

5. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar – OWN, TO READ

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – OWN, READ

7. Tell It to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami – TO READ

8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – OWN, TO READ

9. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady – OWN, READ

10. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – OWN, TO READ

11. 11/22/63 by Stephen King – TO READ

12. The Free World by David Bezmozgis – TO READ

13. In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood – OWN, TO READ

14. Mordecai: The Life & Times by Charles Foran – OWN, TO READ

15. Killdeer by Phil Hall – TO READ

16. The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock – TO READ

7. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq – TO READ

18.  An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy – TO READ

19. Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre – OWN, TO READ

20. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – OWN, TO READ

21. American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar – TO READ

22. Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers – TO READ

23. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – TO READ

24. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai – TO READ

25. Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki – OWN, TO READ

26. Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner – TO READ

27. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – TO READ

28. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman – TO READ

29. Some Ether by Nick Flynn – TO READ

30. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – TO READ

31. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don Delillo – TO READ

32. The Best American Poetry 2011 ed. David Lehman – TO READ

33. Printmaker’s Daughter by Katherine Govier – TO READ

34. An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer – TO READ

35. Carry the One by Carol Anshaw – TO READ

36. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan – TO READ

37.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey – TO READ

38. Floating Like the Dead: Stories by Yasuko Thanh – TO READ

39. History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – TO READ

40.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen – TO READ

41. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson – TO READ

42. The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol – TO READ

43. The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy – TO READ

44. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood – OWN, READ

45.  Swamplandia! By Karen Russell – TO READ

46. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak – TO READ

47.  All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson – TO READ

48.  The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam – TO READ

49. Folk by Jacob MacArthur Mooney – TO READ

50. Ossuaries by Dionne Brand – TO READ




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 03.18.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Re-learn how to knit and finish the scarf I started in 2009

I don’t know what came over me. Just before I became pregnant, the desire to create a pair of gloves from scratch flourished into an obsessive craft.

I went to the library and borrowed as many “how-to knit” books I could find and carry. And then I went to a local superstore and bought my first pair of knitting needles. Next, I filled my basket with different colours and textures of yarn.

I meant business.

And so, in one night, I read up, and put those knitting needles to use. Once I learned a basic stitch, I went crazy!

I knitted at the dining table. I knitted in front of the television. I knitted in bed. I knitted in the car on the way to work (while my husband was driving, of course). I knitted any chance I got.

The end result? A very LONG BEGINNING of…

…a scarf.

I couldn’t quite pick up an end stitch to finish my project.

And so, I say, I’m not one to turn away from challenges I face—sometimes I only stop, pause, and take a little break.

But, the desire to knit still lives in me and has resurfaced. I’d very much like to begin a new scarf—one in turquoise—and finish it. I’d like to wear my accomplished task proudly around my neck as I run errands downtown. I’d like to know that what was once left behind, can also be picked up again and continued. I’d like to know that in each stitch came with it a resolution to learn, to persevere, and to complete.

I’d like to know that someday I will be able to make more than just a scarf: mittens, a hat, slipper-socks, a doll. I’d like to know that.

Here’s to the power of the needle, the fun of fuzzy yarn, and the stitches I have yet to conquer!

Scheveningen Woman Knitting. Van Gogh. Watercolour. December 1881. Private collection.




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 03.11.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Learn American Sign Language (ASL)

When I was nine years old I joined the American Sign Language Club in my school. We met every Tuesday in a classroom after school went out and learned to talk with our hands.

First it was a few words. Then it was lines to a song. After a few months of learning, my nine year-old self was able to speak basic sign with my friends and my peers who could not hear.

Around Christmas time, our school held its annual Christmas assembly. I was also a part of my school’s Junior Choir. Being a part of both clubs, I was asked to sing and sign the words to “Silent Night.”

Bethlehem, the birth site of Jesus Christ

The deaf children in the school were able to fully participate in the assembly. I was happy to see their hands signing in unison to the song. To the song they could hear privately and communally with each gesture. I was exceptionally humbled to be able to share in their experience. To be able to speak with my hands. To be able to speak.

As I grew older, my practice of signing dwindled. I had fully entered the hearing world and lost the language that enabled me to connect with the deaf.

Communication is important to me. Inclusivity, too. Empowering yourself and others in order to demolish the lines between those who are marginalized and those who are not is a meaningful cause, one I adamantly participate in and advocate.

To see the video of how to sign the word, “understand,” click below:


It is my desire to re-learn American Sign Language. To be able to speak to the unwanted silence in all of us.




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 03.04.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Create and print my photography portfolio

You know the shots you take at special events that you attend? You know the pictures you take as a tourist? Well, I’m not talking about those photos.

I’m referring to the photos that you take of daily things. Of something that originally caught your eye enough for you to immortalize it into a photograph.

Because that’s what I do. I see. And I try to capture within the frame of my camera lense, a shot that will commemorate what I love visually.

The photo of an almost empty alleyway. A picture so clear, you can see the pores of the face you are honouring. The photograph of stone, flower, and cistern. The shot of an unused swing. A man smoking a cigarette. A woman’s lips.

Every photo has captured in its moment a personal and secret story. A visual homage.

A pensive family outing: Jack Darling Park, Port Credit, Ontario.

I’d like to take more photographs, print them, collect them, mount them into an album that will tell my own as a visual tourist of ordinary things.




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 02.26.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Print an updated version of my writing portfolio

Every writer has one. It may take the form of yellow foolscap, a collection of strewn napkins, jotted notes in a secret book, or Word documents filed away in a computer.

Writing on a napkin.

My own collection is spread out loosely on lined paper, between book pages, in file folders, as scribbles in a journal, and marks on Post-It notes. Some are on my hard drive, others in the cloud. And I have a pile of hardcopy bursting out of a tray beside my desk.

The creative clutter of my desk that makes me feel at home.

My husband told me once, “I think you like mess and clutter.”

It’s true on some level (the level being equivalent to the height of my stock and archival paper).

But, I think it’s time to get organized. Time to get professional. A duo-tang. A binder. A pretty box. Something.

It’s time to print my pieces on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper and stamp them with a sturdy paperclip.

It’s time to pound the words out like dust from a Persian rug. It’s time to roll the ink on and feel the warmth of freshly printed paper. It’s time to tie everything up with a string and say, “This is done.”

(It’s time to show my husband the depth of his error… or at least, the depth of how far I will go to try to prove him wrong.)

A toast, then: to my upcoming portfolio—and my husband’s fruitful nagging.




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 02.19.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Take a Mehendi-Henna art course

I’ve always been fascinated with the traditions of culture. I want to know languages, taste foods, touch fabrics, learn dances, understand worship and the propriety of courtship.

Having reluctance toward the pain and permanence of a tattoo, I opted instead to discover the art of mehendi.

Henna powder

Mehendi is more than body art. Its original purpose was to bring down temperatures and cool the skin of its wearer in the heat of the country of its original bearers.

The art of mehendi in the Indian culture was practiced on a bride-to-be as a way of female bonding and advice-giving to the ways of love and marriage before the wedding. The labour-intensive and intricate detail of the design calls for time, delicacy, and a little bit of pampering.

From Anahid's Mystical Art Garden Blog: http://www.anahid.com/mehndi.htm

The woman, branded in her henna, is given the privilege during her “honeymoon” period to abstain from physical labour and chores that may come with domestication—until the henna dye fades and disappears, since water has a way of speeding up this process.

It is a beautiful art and a wonderful practice that speaks more than simply “a body tattoo.” To think of it simply as a tattoo would be to dishonour the practice.

So, in my own curiosity and fascination, I took a course in practicing mehendi. When I wish to take some time for myself, I create the henna paste and in quiet meditation brand myself with the intricacies of my own artistic imagination.

Here is an example of my mehendi on my hand and arm:

My practice of mehendi on myself. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

It takes creativity, grace, and discipline. All worthy traits of an ancient art.

– Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 02.12.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Learn how to make

prayer mala beads

I watched the movie, “Kundun” about the 14th Dalai Lama and was intrigued not only by his personal story, but the story of Tibetan history, spirituality, and exile.

"Kundun" movie cover

I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I wanted to understand and connect with the Tibetan people and their cause in an intimate way.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

So, I searched for prayer malas, both in shops in downtown Toronto and online. I did find a few pieces that I liked and bought them. But, my desire to buy them were, of course, hampered by my financial inability to do so.

So, instead, I decided I would learn how to make the malas themselves. Not as pieces of jewellery, but as tokens of love, meditation, and prayer for the Tibetan people.

I have given some to friends whom I have had to leave (for example, friends from work that I grew to know, love, and respect).

Here are some of my creations:

The black onyx stone can help to release negative emotions such as sorrow and grief and used to end unhealthy relationships. It has protective properties since black has an absence of light and known to create invisibility. - Mala beads created by (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
Picture Jasper’s grounding energy can give you a strong sense of who you are. It is said to encourage creative visualisation and creativity. - Mala beads created by (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
Coral symbolizes life and blood force energy. It is used as an aid to depression, lethargy or deficient nutrition. - Mala beads created by (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 01.22.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Correspond with long-term penpals

I participated in a Penpal Exchange Program at my school when I was eight years-old. My penpal was a girl from Ghana. We wrote each other for an entire year through our corresponding schools.

And then I grew up. And moved. And technology moved along with me.

In a day and age of computers, Internet, mobile phones, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, the art of letter writing has slowly disintegrated. It’s a surprise that Canada Post survives at all if it weren’t for our much awaited packages in the mail from eBay.

So, I mentioned finding myself some penpals to my husband. Is it so an outdated idea that people from all over the globe actually pick up a pen and write on paper and snail-mail it to potential friends with the same interests and love of letter writing?

Not according to the website I found when searching online for some organization that might facilitate this kind of hobby.

And so, I look forward to a growing, long-term relationship with my pen-friends from:

  • Vienna, Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Meridian, Idaho
  • Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Algiers, Algeria
  • Zurich, Switzerland
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Oslo, Norwayh
  • Erd, Hungary
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • Oulu, Finland

Here’s to fresh ink, parchment, postcards, pretty envelopes, and faraway stamps. Here’s to fine penmanship and good friends.

Canadian stamps




Zara Alexis

Zara’s Bucket List Sunday: 01.15.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Keep a diary or a journal

This isn’t kid stuff, though I kept a diary when I was seven years-old. It had Holly Hobbie at the front and a lock and a key. It was orange with flowers. And I wrote in it everyday.

Holly Hobbie

Whatever happened to it, I can’t remember. Perhaps I ripped it into shreds or burned it in our fireplace, too afraid of its seven-year-old-implications.

But, now that I’m older, I regret not faithfully keeping a diary or a journal. Secrets aren’t usually kept, nor are they rarely written down. Yes, I have secrets, but, I also have stories, memories I would have liked to preserve in print.

Perhaps they will prove to be of use to me should I age inappropriately into dementia. Perhaps they will be lovingly archived by my curious children. Perhaps they will serve as nothing more than a therapeutic letter to myself in the solitude of night. Perhaps they will serve to fuel another fire.

Regardless, I’d like to keep one.

Besides, this notebook is too interesting to waste.

Collage journal




Zara Alexis