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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Picture this

I worked in the children’s department at a bookstore for two years before I made the move to be near my sister and nephew. It was those two years that prepared me not only to tolerate tantrums but to know a good children’s book when I see one.

I’ve read several young adult* books that I will share when José is old enough, but he is still of the age when one is read to and picture books are way to go.

As I posted previously, my friend Lisa has a picture book blog, which I like to use as a reference for new and classic picture books. I hold her opinion high so if she says it’s good, then it must be. Another reference I’ve recently found is The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children’s Books by Kaylee N. Davis. It was published in 2012 so there are books that were published this year that aren’t listed. The book breaks down into sections for different age groups as well as different non-fiction topics. It then lists the Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King medal winners from their inception until 2012.

As I find, read, and share picture books with José, I will post quick reviews of my (and hopefully his) favorites.

I Want My Hat BackI Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

In I Want My Hat Back, a bear goes to different animals in the forest to see if anyone has seen his hat. Everyone says they haven’t but when the bear starts to describe the hat, he realizes where it is. There is a surprise ending that will have both kids and adults laughing. This Is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott Medal. The story is about a little fish who stole a hat from a very big fish. The book teaches kids sarcasm and irony, my two favorite things. I once had a customer who said that the illustrations were awful as she quickly flipped through the book, and that no kid would like something so dark (color-wise). José owns this book (thanks to Tia Liz) and enjoys looking at the pictures. It just goes to show you, don’t judge a book by its illustrations (especially when said book won the highest achievement for children’s illustration).

BB and the Big Road RaceThe Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race by Stan and Jan Berenstain

This was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I had a lot of the Berenstain Bears books, but I was drawn to this particular one because of the rhythm and rhyme. It’s also a favorite of José’s but I think it has more to do with the race cars and “vroom!” noises they make than anything.

Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read this book until recently. A good friend of mine bought it, along with a few other books, for José. I hadn’t even seen the movie. I knew about it, of course, and its sequel Pickles to Pittsburgh, but that was it. When I finally sat down and read it, I not only found a deliciously funny story, but succulent and fulfilling illustrations as well. If you’ve read the book but never took a good look at the illustrations, do so. There’s a lot of humor in the background.

PartsParts by Tedd Arnold

A kid notices that his hair comes out in his comb and that fuzz is coming out of his belly button. To him, it means only one thing: the glue holding him together is falling apart! This book is a quick, funny read. The illustrations are colorful and fun, as they depict impossible things, like the kid’s head falling off or his arm coming loose. As with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Parts has a lot of humor in the illustrations. It also has rhythm and rhyme, making it a great “just one more” book at bedtime. There are two other parts to the series: More Parts and Even More Parts. I can’t wait to get them from the library!

*Grades 4-6

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in Literature

 

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Awww au jus!

I used to live on roast beef sandwiches and au jus sauce. Any time I saw French dip listed on the menu of a restaurant, I ordered it. I loved taking the two slices of soft warm bread, stuffed with slow roasted beef, and dipping it until it was soaking in au jus sauce. My mouth watered at the mere thought of getting a French dip sandwich.

But then I became a vegetarian. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the first few years as my body adjusted to my new diet and I learned how to curb my cravings. I started eating meals made with meat substitutes, like tacos made from Morning Star Crumbles and fajitas from Smart Ones Chik’n Strips. Not only did it satisfy my body’s need for protein, I took comfort in the familiar tasting food* without sacrificing my principles.

When I meet new people and they learn I’m a vegetarian, they often ask if I miss meat. My answer is always the same: I miss French dip. There’s no substitute for beef drenched in hot beef broth. I can get a fake turkey for Christmas and Thanksgiving. I can have “bacon” and eggs for breakfast. I can even make “meat” loaf.** But I can’t find anything to replace the taste and experience of French dip.

Until now.

I was recently in Whole Foods, searching for Tofurkey Deli Slices when I saw they had a variation that I’d never seen before. I don’t know if it’s new or that my grocer in Indiana never sold it, but either way, I was happy to see it. It was their roast beef flavor. Roast beef! I couldn’t believe it! I grabbed a few packages, resisting the urge to buy up all the stock. After all, what if it wasn’t any good?

Later, when I was getting ready to make my first roast “beef” sandwich in 15 years, I flipped the back of the package over and read the suggestion to try it with vegan au jus sauce.

WHAT?! Au jus sauce can be made vegan? HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

I grabbed my keys and headed back to Whole Foods, bent on finding this sauce. Surely, if the Tofurkey people were suggesting vegan au jus sauce, then someone out there must be producing it. And if someone was producing it, then Whole Foods would have it.

But I couldn’t find it. I walked up and down the soup and broth aisle three times before it occurred to me to pull out my phone and search the internet. Thankfully, there were recipes for what I was looking for, including one that mentioned eating the Tofurkey Roast Beef slices with it. So, after much more searching through the store, I got the right stuff, went home, and made my first batch. As the sauce heated up on the stove, I took my hoagie bun and put several slices of roast “beef” on it and stuck it in the toaster oven.

After a just a few minutes, I sat down with my toasted sandwich, the bun warm and soft, and the vegan au jus sauce steaming up my glasses. I’d been waiting for this moment for the past 15 years and hoped that it wouldn’t disappoint. I dipped my sandwich and pulled it out soaked. I took a bite and closed my eyes.

Oui!

*Some meat eaters have tried these meat substitutes and say they’re pretty spot-on, but not all meat substitutes are created equal.

**I never ate real meat loaf when I did eat meat, so I don’t know if the recipe I have even tastes like the real thing. Also, if fake bacon is called facon, then wouldn’t fake meat loaf be called feat loaf?

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in About me, Everyday Life, Food

 

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Holá, José

After a day and a half of driving (well, mostly it was Mom driving and me sleeping in the car), we finally arrived at my sister’s – and nephew’s – doorstep. It was finally time for me to meet my nephew, José. I’d talked with him on the phone a few times, even Skyped with him. But soon I would see him in the flesh. My desire to hug him was already overwhelming, though I knew to wait for him to come to me. When my mom went down to Colombia to help out Jess, it took José a couple of days to warm up to abuela. (It didn’t take so long with abuelo – my father – but we figured that was because he’s also a dude.)

So, when he greeted me at the door and then ran away, shrieking happily, I didn’t take offense. Jess was there to give me a big hug, which I always enjoy. Right away, José was eager to show me all the surprises he and Jess had for me. First, there were presents. Of course, if there’s a kid around presents, it doesn’t matter who they’re for, the kid should be the one to open them. So I asked him to help me open them and even though he’d help Jess wrap them, he still acted surprised at what was inside. Everything was from his birth country: a journal, a mug, and a purse with Colombia’s flag colors on it. He tried to put the purse on my head like a hat, unsuccessfully.

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José looks over the coloring pages.

Being an aunt, I had presents for him and Jess as well. José received a Thomas the Tank Engine, coloring pages drawn by my friend Burt, and many books, including one that he and Jess had read down in Colombia. He recognized it right away and made a happy noise. Jess’ presents were a little less exciting but much more sentimental. One was a picture frame I’d made with the word “family” in big letters and the “gotcha date” stamped on it. The picture I put inside the frame was the first picture that Jess had sent me from Colombia, the two of them grinning to finally be with their family. Her other present was a set of watercolor paintings done by my friend Veruca, who is married to Burt. I’d commissioned her to make a watercolor map of José’s hometown. As a surprise, she also made a watercolor map of José’s new hometown. I framed them and Jess hung them up in the living room. They look great and I enjoy seeing them every day!

Even though José kept asking for mas, there were no more presents, but there was another surprise in store for me. I followed him into the kitchen where he showed me the torte he and his mama made together. We all sat down and had a slice. Yummy!

Swimming

José lets me hold him as abuela laughs at his adorable smile.

The next few days went by in a blur of playing, laughing, and being utterly exhausted. I knew that new moms got tired a lot; I didn’t know that new aunts did, too! By my third night, I passed out on the couch as Jess put José to bed. I slept for 12 hours that night and felt as if I could have slept even more.

We all went to the pool one day and abuela and I played with him while Jess took a well-deserved and much needed nap in the sun. He doesn’t know how to swim yet, but he knows how to hold his breath under water and kicking his legs. He likes to be submerged in the big pool, but is too scared to go by himself (he refuses to use the floaties). But that first day we were at the pool together, he let me hold him as I walked around the pool. He clung to me but he had a huge grin on his face and I relished in the time I got to hold him. I also got to sneak in a kiss. It meant so much to me that even after not knowing me for very long, he trusted me enough to let me carry him through the “scary” water.

And here’s our first family photo with Tia Liz (notice the creepy abuelo in the background?):

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(left to right) Abuelo, Tia Liz, Mama, José

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in About me, Everyday Life

 

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Goodbye Brickyard – Part 2

The following evening was my third and final going away party. I called it the “Drink/eat this so I don’t have to move it” party. I wanted to get rid of as much stuff in my kitchen as possible so I wouldn’t have to move it or throw it out. I also wanted one more chance to play Cards Against Humanity before I lived with a four year-old and would have to watch my language.

If you haven’t heard of Cards Against Humanity, then you are missing out. Ever played Apples to Apples? It’s like that, but wrong. Just check out their website.

Two of my best friends from high school drove 3 ½ hours to come see me, which blew me away. But that’s what great friends do, right? Also a college friend, Sally, came by. I’d seen her by coincidence a few years ago, when we were both at the Butler bookstore during the basketball team’s second Final Four appearance (in a row!). But we just briefly chatted then. This gave us an opportunity to catch up a bit more and just hang out, something I wish I’d strived to do more with Sally while I was still in Indy. Patti also came, though not her two young girls, who I’d babysat a few times before. After all, it was a grown up night and no one under the age of 18 should be exposed to Cards Against Humanity. But she told me that when the girls heard I was moving away, they said, “I thought she was going to babysit us forever!” It was very sweet, but I have my own family to babysit for now.

When the crowd was down to just a handful of us and the game was getting old, we switched to another one of my favorite card games: Anomia. Basically, everyone has a stack of cards and they each take turns to flip one up in front of them. Each card has a symbol and a subject, like “Mystery Novelist” or “Famous Ghost”. If the symbols from two cards match, the players must name something from the other person’s card first. The first person to correctly name something, gets the other person’s card. In the end, the person with the most cards won, wins. It sounds pretty easy, but if you play it, you will find that thinking on the spot and under pressure makes for a lot of “uhs” and “ums” and will make even the smartest person look stupid. For example, I had to name a famous astronaut. Not hard: Neil Armstrong. But then I had to name a famous inventor. Because this card was with the same player as the previous one, my mind automatically went to my last answer and I’d blurted out, “Neil Armstrong!” So, after a few rounds and many, many laughs with that game, the party dispersed.

The next morning my mom arrived to help with final preparations and take my cat to her new home. Dad arrived a few days later and the next day we packed up the truck* and hit the road, leaving the Brickyard behind.

*Actually, I hired people to pack the truck for us. Best use of my money ever.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in About me

 

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Goodbye Brickyard – Part 1

After my first going away party, I had a second, smaller party at one of Indy’s best pizza places: Bazbeaux Pizza. When Jess learned that I was going there before coming to Virginia, she asked me to bring her some (like it would last that long!). That’s how good Bazbeaux is.

I first experienced Bazbeaux my sophomore year at Butler University, when a group I participated in went out to Broad Ripple, the strip of bars and restaurants frequented by students. A few people in the group were vegetarian, like me. Having not been to Bazbeaux before, I thought that I was in for just some plain ol’ cheese pizza (which I enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not very exciting). Low and behold, they had just as many specialty vegetarian pizzas as they did for the meat eaters. There was a Chipotle pizza with black bean sauce rather than marinara, a Greek pizza with feta cheese and spinach, a Spring pizza with carrots and broccoli. There were so many choices, I didn’t know where to start! Thankfully, another vegetarian helped me out, as we would have to split the pizzas between several people. That day I tried the Chipotle pizza. It was different and a bit unusual, but I liked it.

The next time my family visited me, I insisted that we go to Bazbeaux. They instantly loved it, too, and it became a regular place for us to dine when they were in town.

So, after more than a decade of decadent pizza, I naturally had to give the place a proper farewell. When a coworker suggested dinner when she couldn’t make it to my first going away party at Mediterra (also in Broad Ripple), I picked Bazbeaux to be the place. The branch we went to was in Carmel, though, close to work. The group was smaller, but it consisted of people who couldn’t make it to the first party, so it turned out perfectly.

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After dinner, I asked if someone would help me with another tradition that Jess and I partook in: posing with the statues in the Arts & Design District. Everyone decided to come on the outing. There was a fairly new statue that Jess and I never got a picture with because we couldn’t think of anything to do with it. The statue was a lady walking a small dog. I thought it might be funny to pose as if I were peeing on the dog:

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Of course, it just looks like I’m trying to kick them at a weird angle, but that worked as that was my signature move for many statues over the years. Then someone suggested that I make it look like I was about to slap the woman:

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And that was the end of my second going away party and the last time I’ll have Bazbeaux pizza (until I save up enough money to go visit!).

A few days after the Bazbeaux outing, I had my final shift at the store. A few friends popped in to say goodbye, which was great. Toward the end of my shift, though, I was ushered into the back to enjoy some gourmet cupcakes (I had a cream-cicle flavored one! Yummy!) and to open my going away present from the staff. One of my coworkers and great friend Burt is an illustrator (a great one at that!). He’d drawn a picture of me and my nephew donned in Hogwarts outfits and holding hands. We each had a wand, spraying out hearts, and above our heads he wrote, “Have a ‘magical’ time with your nephew!” The matte around the illustration was signed by my coworkers, wishing me luck and saying goodbye.

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I currently have it sitting on the nightstand to I can see it as I lay down at night and wake up in the morning. When I get my own place, I will hang it on the wall and display it proudly. My friends’ words of love and support are very precious to me.

Once my shift was over, I went around to the staff that was there and got some more pictures to remember them by:

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in About me, Food

 

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