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Author Archives: Liz

The Best (and Worst) Books I Read in 2014

Last year I read 108 books. Before you get too impressed, please note that there were may picture books in that mix. Overall, I read a lot of good books, some exceptional. Unfortunately I also read a few bad ones. So here’s my take on the best and worst books I read, divided by genre.

Best Picture Book:
BeekleThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
by Dan Santat
I chose this book for a few reasons. One, the drawings are great; colorful with plenty going on but not too much to be distracting. Another  reason is the story itsself. It’s creative and unique. It takes the common experience of a child imagining a friend, and flips it on its head. Instead, the imaginary friend has no child to imagine to life. I’m hoping that this book will get at least a Caldecott nod.

Honorable mentions:
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and Tom Lichtenheld

Dishonorable mention:
Telephone by Mac Barnett

SmileBest Young Reader:
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This was not a new release in 2014. It was published in 2010 and since then I’ve had many customers asking for the book. I thought it was time I saw what the big fuss was about. First off, this is a graphic novel, which is different from Manga and “diary fiction”. It’s a biopic story of Raina going through tooth troubles while trying to navigate middle and high school. First she breaks her two front teeth, then has to endure years of oral surgeries, braces, moldings, and so forth. Along the way she is trying to find who she is and her voice. The story line is good, the morals fantastic, and the art well done. (Side rant: some parents will not let their child read graphic novels because “they’re not real books”. Um, actually they are and some of them are amazing. Reading is reading. Whether the book has no, few, or lots of drawings. Some kids need the extra help of pictures to comprehend plot or vocabulary and THAT’S OKAY! They’re making the effort! If a parent insists that a child read only a “real” book, then that child is likely to be turned off to reading entirely. How awful and such a disservice to the child!)

Honorable mentions:
Shouldn’t You Be In School? by Lemony Snicket
Origami Yoda series by Tom Angelberger

PoisonBest Teen Book:
Poison by Bridget Zinn
The best potion master just tried to assassinate the princess, who also happens to be her best friend. Now Kyra is on the run, trying to track down the princess in hiding while not getting caught by the royal guard. With a piglet by her side, Kyra hunts down her target, promising not to miss this time.

I flew through this book (I don’t typically fly through anything). It has it all: intrigue, humor, adventure, romance, and a piglet. Who doesn’t love a piglet?

Sorry – I just love that! Anyway…The only downside to this book is that it will make you fall in love with its author, Bridget Zinn. And your heart will break when you learn that the talented young author lost her battle against cancer.

Honorable mentions:
We Were Liars by E. LockhartAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Dishonorable mentions:
Perfect Ruin by Lauren Destefano
The Originals by Cat Patrick

RosieBest Adult Book:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I didn’t read many adult books (i.e. not children’s or teen) but this was by far my favorite. I once read a description that the main character, Don, is the literary Sheldon Cooper and it is spot on. Don figures it’s time he gets married and sets about finding a wife the only way he knows how: methodically. First, he makes a list of must-have qualities. Second, he writes and distributes a 100-question booklet to eligible women. Now he just needs to review the answers and marry the one who gets them all right. Only, Don doesn’t expect a wrench thrown into his plans. That wrench is Rosie, who fits none of the qualities on his list, yet is suddenly, inexplicably now a part of his life. The book is hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. I couldn’t put it down!

Honorable mention:
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Literature

 

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Four great kids’ reads

Adventures oThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friendf Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

This is a story that begins in a land where imaginary friends wait to be imagined by boys and girls. All the friends get imagined…except for Beekle. But Beekle gets so anxious to have a friend of his own, he decides to go searching for him. He looks everywhere; in the park, in a tree but his friend is nowhere to be found. But when all seems lost, Beekle becomes imagined.

Santat’s illustrations are beyond adorable. During Beekle’s search, the reader comes across the other imaginary friends and their kids. It’s a great story, not just about friendship, but also the creative power of a child’s mind.

Here Comes the Easter CatHere Comes the Easter Cat! By Deborah Underwood

Cat wants to take over the Easter Bunny’s job. But there’s a problem: Cat doesn’t realize all the responsibilities that come with the job. But Cat has a solution for all but one and it’s a bit of a deal-breaker. Before Cat can think of a solution, the Easter Bunny comes by and he is so tired from all of the work. Now is the time for cat to take over and become the Easter Cat! Will he do it or will he let the Easter Bunny keep the job?

The writing style of this book is different from most picture books. The reader becomes the narrator and interacts directly with Cat. The illustrations are also well done with soft lines and colors. Each page has the minimal illustrations needed to get the story, and its humor, across.

Puddle PugPuddle Pug by Kim Norman

Pug loves all kinds of puddles – big, small, deep, shallow, and so much more. Pug knows where all his favorite puddles are. One day he comes across the perfect puddle. The only thing is, the puddle is home to Pig and her three piglets. Pig does not want Pug in her puddle. But then something horrible happens to the piglets. Can Pig and Pug forget their differences and work together to find the piglets?

This is a sweet story told in rhyme and the illustrations capture the playful and caring soul of a dog perfectly.

FoundFound by Salina Yoon

A young bear finds a stuffed rabbit. Waning to make sure it gets back home, Bear makes a “Found” flier and hangs it all over the forest. Bear finally finds the rabbit’s owner, who has a surprise reward for Bear.

Yoon’s illustrations are simple, but adorable with bold colors and broad lines. The part of the book I liked best was when Bear posted his flier to a community board that was filled with other lost and found fliers. The fliers are mostly common sayings, like “Lost: My Mind”. There’s even one flier that tips its hat to another beloved children’s book. But I won’t spoil it for you here – just go pick up a copy of Found (and all the other books) today!

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2014 in Literature

 

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Waaaay too many books, not enough time

One of the things I love about Good Reads is that users can set reading challenges every year. This year I had to up my goal a few times because I read a lot of picture books. The challenge doesn’t make you specify what kind of books or number of pages; it just counts the quantity of books.

As of this posting, my “to-read” shelf is at 631 books.1 I can’t possibly read that many books in a year; I fall asleep when I read (hey, it relaxes me!). Still, on average it takes me a week to get through a 300 page book. So a realistic challenge for me would be to read 52 books in 2014 (not including picture books).

But what to read? With over 600 choices, I thought it would be best to put down the titles on a “short list” and read those first. I tried to get a variety of genres as well as finish up some series I started. So, divided by genre, here are the 52 books I will read in 2014:

Classic

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston3

 

Fiction

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

 

Non-Fiction

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck

Love You More by Jennifer Grant

College Girls by Lynn Peril

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer

For Her Own Good by Barbara Ehrenreich

 

Young Adult and Teen

The Void of Mist and Thunder (13th Reality #4) by James Dashner

Reached (Matched #3) by Ally Condie

Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth4

Lovesick (Ghostgirl #3) by Tonya Hurley

Delirium (Delirium #1) by Lauren Oliver

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s #2) by Ransom Riggs5

Shelter Me by Alex McAuley

The One (The Selection #3) by Kiera Cass

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Fever (Chemical Garden #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Sever (Chemical Garden #3) by Lauren DeStefano

Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans

Ascend (Trylle #3) by Amanda Hocking

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Me Since You by Laura Wiess

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality Doctorine #2) by James Dashner

Unhinged (Splintered #2) by A.G. Howard

The Testing (The Testing #1) by Joelle Charbonneau

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of the Beginning #2) by John Stephens

The Curse of the Broomstaff (The Janitors #3) by Tyler Whitesides

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

When Did You See Her Last? (All the Wrong Questions #2) by Lemony Snicket

Shutdown (Glitch #3) by Heather Anastasiu

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

So, just over half of the titles I picked are young adult and teen. This really doesn’t surprise me since it’s what I read most of the time. A lot of the titles, from all the genres, were books that I bought on impulse6 because I HAD TO READ THEM RIGHT AWAY. Some I’ve had for years. Others, just a few months. Either way, I thought I should whittle them down first before trying to accumulate more, even if they are just digital. 

The ones I don’t currently own, I will rely on getting from the library. Now that I’m in a smaller town, access to free books is a bit more limited. Indy had over 20 libraries to pull from so almost everything I wanted was available. Here, not so much. There are only a handful of libraries at my disposal so my choices are more limited. Should I not be able to get a title through the library and am unable to afford to buy a copy, I will substitute the title for another in that genre.

And if when I get through my list, I’ll refill my coffee mug and start a new one.

 

1. To give you an idea, my “read” shelf, compiled over 7 years, is at 567. So, it would take me a good 8 years to read everything on my “to-read” shelf if I don’t add anything to it.2

2. Yeah, right.

3. I was supposed to have read this for a class in college. I don’t remember which class and the only thing I remember about the book was the beginning, which I liked, so I think that I didn’t actually finish it. Oops.

4. I want to read this before I see the movie, which is set to release in theaters in March.

5. It’s been over two years since the first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, came out and left its readers hanging off a cliff!

6. No, Mom, I don’t own ALL of the books on my list. Just most.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in About me, Literature

 

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This blog is brought to you by the letter ‘S’*

It’s great to see José enjoy the toys and movies that Jess and I loved growing up. Mom kept most of the books and toys from our childhood. Before Jess left for Colombia, she dug through the boxes of toys and books in Mom’s basement and picked out some for José’s room. His coloring table is a small round table that I used to host tea parties on for my Cabbage Patch Kids and most of my collection of Berenstain Bears books now have a home on his bookshelf. I can’t wait until he’s old enough so we can play with all my old Legos!

Bert and ErnieOne of Jess and mine’s favorite things was listening to the record Bert and Ernie’s Sing-Along. We would often put on the record player set up in our playroom and sing and dance along to the silly songs. The premise of the record is that Bert is taking a bath when Ernie comes in…with a piano! He wants Bert to participate in his sing-a-long, but Bert just wants to have a nice quiet bath. His bath is anything but quiet as more people and monsters from the Street come into the bathroom. The songs they sing range from classics, like Old McDonald Had a Farm and She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, to songs written just for the album, like Living Hand in Hand (my personal favorite). Jess and I would keep ourselves entertained for hours listening to that record. But we grew up and moved out on our own and eventually the record player got packed up.

I searched for the record in CD format for years, but to no avail. Maybe at one point it had been recorded onto a tape but even those were a rarity. It wasn’t until just a few years ago when I was searching online when I found out that the good people who bring us Sesame Street was going to release the CD, along with two other Sesame Street oldies. I snatched a copy up the day it came out and called Jess. That’s how excited I was and I knew she would be, too.

Jess has the copy of the sing-a-long in her car and José asks for certain songs from it. He’s still working on his English, but he’s getting better about it every day and he tries really hard to sing all the words in English. He likes Old McDonald Had a Farm and at the end of the song when the Sesame Street gang slows down and sings, “E-I-E-I-O”, he closes his eyes and deepens his voice. It is both the cutest and funniest thing to see and hear.

Monster at the EndAnother thing that Jess and I loved growing up was the Little Golden Book called There’s a Monster at the End of This Book. It starred none other than Grover. It’s a pretty basic premise: Grover is afraid of the monster at the end of the book and tries to stop the reader from turning the pages of the book. It’s still in print and I am excited when I see parents buying it for their kids. I actually don’t know if José likes the book; I just know that it’s on his bookshelf.

One thing I knFollow that Birdow he loves, though, is a favorite movie of mine and Jess’ called Follow That Bird. It’s a musical about Big Bird being adopted by a family of Dodos. When he runs away to go back to Sesame Street, the gang takes different routes to try to find him. At the same time, the stubborn Miss Finch searches for Big Bird so she can return him to the Dodos and the Sleaze brothers (one of whom is played by Dave Thomas) want Big Bird for their carnival. What ensues is a lot of hijinks, including Bert and Ernie flying upside-down to get Big Bird’s attention. Much to the dismay of Bert, Ernie sings about an upside-down world:

Come fly with me in an upside-down world.

There’s so many strange things to see.

There’s upside-down people who walk down the street,

Upside-down shoes on their upside-down feet,

In an upside-down world.

In an upside-down world.

(Bert, talking) Ernie, I don’t feel so good.

(Ernie) Wheee!

It’s fun to be in an upside-down world

There’s fish that fall out of the sea.

There’s upside-down clocks that make everyone late.

Upside-down food that won’t stay on your plate

In an upside-down world.

In an upside-down world.

There’s so many strange things all over town,

It all looks so funny that I’ve got to frown.

‘Cause a frown is a smile when it’s turned upside-down,

In an upside-down,

What-side-down?

Oops-side-down,

Whoops-side-down,

Upside-down world!

It’s a fun song to sing, which Jess and I often did. As it turns out, not only does José like the movie, that’s his favorite part of it! It’s probably because it all takes place in an airplane and he loves airplanes, but we often hear him singing the song to himself. Well, we hear him sing the second verse over and over (and over and over) to himself. We even listen to the soundtrack in the car when José asks for it.

I love being an aunt and getting to relive my childhood through someone who sees all of it as something new and exciting!

*The letter ‘S’ is for singing, silliness, and Sesame Street.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in About me, Everyday Life

 

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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.

DSCN0454

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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