nature, Opt Outside in Texas

Alluring Bald Cypress Trees at Two Texas Parks

Bald cypress trees are delightful, intricate works of art. Luckily, I live a short drive from many great locations to view these beauties.

The two locations I’m highlighting today are the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne, TX and Cypress Bend Park in New Braunfels, TX.

The trail at the Cibolo Nature Center has quickly become one of my favorite destinations. It’s family-friendly (note that not all of the trail by the water is wheel accessible) and quite peaceful. I regularly observe people doing photography sessions.

Did you know? Cypress are in the Cupressaceae family.

Cupressaceae (Cypress family) description (conifers.org)

Cypress Bend Park in the City of New Braunfels has big open fields to run in as well as an accessible trail. On the day I went, there were people fishing, walking their dogs, and just all-in-all having a great time. It’s a short and sweet trail.

According to the Cypress Bend park webpage, it is the last public exit for tubers to get out of the Guadalupe River.

In addition to the alluring cypress trees, both locations offer a variety of flora and fauna to enjoy.

Thanks for joining me and remember to explore your local parks + learning centers!

nature, Opt Outside in Texas, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Wine, Bread, and Hiking? Castroville, Texas Has It All!

This post was updated on 4 April 2021 to include information about the Castroville Poppy House.

Texas travel and tourism has no shortage of small-town stopping points. One of my favorite things about Texas is that travel here often involves history, nature, or some combination of the two. Today’s post is about Castroville, “the Little Alsace of Texas” and a small town west of San Antonio. At first glance, Castroville seems unassuming, with Highway 90 running down the middle and a lack of bells and whistles. For those in the know, it’s not a place to pass through, it’s a whole destination: Haby’s Alsatian Bakery, Medina River Winery, historic landmarks such as the Castroville Poppy House, and public parks. There’s plenty to do to make Castroville your next staycation or vacation.

Hiking is fun for the whole family!

My personal favorite place to go is Castroville Regional Park. It boasts a pool, RV park, hiking trails, and I’ve seen people depart their vehicles with pool floaties destined for the Medina River. It’s a great location for picnics with family and friends. Be cautious of the wildlife and heed all warning signs. Bring lots of water and watch your step!

If you’re anything like me then after your hike at the park, you’ll want to stop by the Magnolia Filling Station for some iced coffee.

Castroville-based Black Rose Writing sponsors a Little Free Library next to the Magnolia Filling Station

Wine lovers are not forgotten in Castroville. Medina River Winery is locally owned and operated. My personal favorite is the Blanc Dubois. They are currently open for pickup – send them a message to reserve a bottle!

Castroville boasts another unique feat: At the turn of the 21st century, an entire 1,200+ sq ft, 17th century Alsatian house was disassembled in France and put back together in Castroville (see below pic to get an idea of the style). Click here to learn more about the Steinbach House.

Photo by Pierre Blachu00e9 on Pexels.com

Another gem is Haby’s Alsatian Bakery, which has such a delicious assortment of treats and sweets that as I write this I am very tempted to drive over and get some. In addition to ready-made breads, donuts, and pastries, they fill custom orders and supply bread for Sammy’s Restaurant across the street.

Over Easter weekend, my son and I visited the Castroville Poppy House. I drove by it on my way to the regional park and thought, where did all these flowers come from?? Fortunately, Lloyd and Sally have opened their historic property during the months of March and April for visits and photographs. Their beautiful dog, Jack, is ready to greet you with a friendly tail wag – if that doesn’t entice you further, I don’t know what else will!

(The following information comes from the Castroville Area Chamber of Commerce 2020 Visitor Guide.) The home on the property is the G. L. Haass House and was built in the late 1840s/early 1850s, with room additions occurring over the subsequent years. “The house was constructed using hand-hewed native cypress for beaming and framing with locally quarried limestone for the foundation… The original hand-made front doors are of a unique French style assembled using wooden dowels no nails. All windows were 12 paned double hung windows with louvered shutters.”

It is believed that the log cabin – located next to the windmill and well – was relocated to this property from another site but the reason is unknown. According to the 2020 Visitor Guide, it is “the last original free standing one room log cabin left in Castroville from the early pioneer days.”

George Haass was deeded this property by Henri Castro (for whom Castroville is named after) in 1847. “George Haass, a native of Durkheim, Bavaria Germany, was one of Henri Castro’s original colonists. He was one of two paid guides leading the colonists out of San Antonio on September 1, 1844, to settle near the Medina River on September 3, 1844, and was one of the original signers naming and founding Castroville on September 12, 1844.” Haass also went on to become Castroville’s first constable in 1844, the first sheriff of Medina County in 1848, and was a mayor, among other business ventures.

Can you imagine saddling up and heading west to Castroville? Now, we get there in no time – all we have to do is load up the car and head down Highway 90 or the farm-to-market road (my preferred route, actually, I like taking the back roads 🙂 ).

In some more good news, Lloyd shared that they are planning to turn the A. H. Tondre House (catty-cornered to the G. L. Haass house) into a bed and breakfast. Sign me up for that! The A. H. Tondre house is an early 1900s Sears, Roebuck and Co model.

Information on the properties listed above as well as much more is available in the Chamber’s visitor guide, which also includes a map and descriptions of the 70+ properties on the Castroville Walking Tour.

Castroville has so much to offer for history and nature lovers and anyone seeking a laid-back weekend. (I can’t wait to do the historic walking tour!) Visit the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Castroville to learn more!

About the Writer, Writing

Letters to an Author: Dear Michael Crichton

This is the first of a series called Letters to an Author. What authors have influenced and inspired you? What did you like or dislike about them? How did they change how you perceive the world?

* * *

Dear Michael Crichton,

For making sci-fi feel accessible, I thank you.

I have never considered myself “good at” science. It was always something reserved for the people I thought of as super-smart.

I just didn’t feel like I was good at science, and with you, I don’t have to be.

I know wires are important, but I didn’t need to know all about them to enjoy Terminal Man. I understand the concept of a camera and recognize the expertise involved in studying dinosaur bones, but I didn’t need to study those to enjoy Dragon Teeth.

Can you believe I haven’t read Jurassic Park? Don’t worry, it’s on my list – and I saw the movie!

There arre the authors we think are our favorite authors, then there are the ones we come back to again and again. It’s hard to pick a favorite sometimes. But I own more books by you than any other author. Mostly in paperback – except Pirate Latitudes in hardcover, which I loved by the way.

Thank you for making mystery fun and nerdiness magical. For making it an exploration and an adventure. For making me not only think but ponder. For helping me enjoy science.

There’s probably a huge line of people who want to meet you on the other side, and you know I’ll be in it.

Love, Heather

To learn more about Michael Crichton and his many projects, visit The Official Site of Michael Crichton.

nature, Special Guests, Wellness

Bloom Where You’re Planted: Q+A with Hannah!

Bloom where you’re planted.

Today’s post explores the benefits of houseplants and gardening.

Gardening can be rewarding mentally, physically, spiritually, and even economically. Bringing the outside in brightens up living spaces and helps with air quality – not to mention the sweet scents of the flowers!

Read on to explore Hannah’s love of plants – both houseplants and outdoor – and learn about the benefits of your local plant nurseries.

***

What draws you to plants and gardening? 
I like how gardening makes me feel, especially since it’s so rewarding to watch them grow and bloom.  My mom loved gardening and always had a lot of flowers growing in her yard so I think that’s what kick started my interest as a kid.  As an adult I became more interested in restorative agriculture and permaculture so that drove my focus to fruit trees, fruit bushes, herbs, and pollinator-friendly plants.

(Learn more about restorative agriculture and permaculture!)

When did you start getting into planting?
I really got into gardening once I bought my home in 2018.  I have a good sized yard (at least larger than any yard I had growing up) so the possibilities seemed endless. 

What are your favorite plants and flowers?
My favorite houseplant is my monstera (I call her Monsty) and my favorite flowers are currently dahlias (my favorite flowers tend to change year to year).  I have a few varieties of dahlia bulbs getting sent to me next month and I’m very excited to plant them!  They’ll bloom in the summertime.

I remember you planted some fruit trees in 2019. How are those doing?
So far so good!  In 2019 I planted an apple tree (grafted with four varieties), a pear tree (grafted with four varieties), a fig tree, apricot tree, peach tree, and walnut tree.  Sadly the walnut tree didn’t make it but everything else is doing well. The only tree that has produced fruit yet is the fig tree but I’m hoping that this year I can start seeing some peaches and apricots.  The apple and pear won’t produce for at least another 3-6 years.

Plants make a home feel cozier. Do you have them in every room of your house?
Actually I don’t! I keep all my plants on the first floor of my home.  I have a south facing window in my dining room so most of my indoor plants are centered around there.  In my dining room I have about 30 plants in total. I have a few plants and cuttings in my kitchen and I keep my bigger cacti in my sunroom.  I used to keep my succulents in my sunroom but I recently made a “succulent station” on an old bookshelf in my dining room.  I have UV lights on a timer to make sure the succulents get plenty of light and don’t become leggy. 

What are your go-to plant and gardening resources?
I have found a lot of support on reddit on these communities: r/gardening, r/houseplants,  r/homestead, r/permaculture, and r/flowers.  There is a wealth of information in those forums and an active community ready to help and answer any questions you may have. 

Also, Better Homes and Gardens has a lot of great information online including pre-made garden plans.  If you have an area that you’d like to fill with blooms I highly recommend you look at their plans and find something that you love.

“Be patient with yourself, be patient with your plants, and most of all forgive yourself when you make mistakes.”

What benefits do you perceive from working with plants?
It really teaches you to be patient and forgiving with yourself.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve killed more plants than I can count but it’s all part of the learning process.  There are some plants I refuse to have because I can’t keep them alive to save my life and at this point it seems cruel to keep trying. So far my no-go list is peace lilies, ferns, and orchids.  Everyone has their talents and interests and it’s all about finding them.  Be patient with yourself, be patient with your plants, and most of all forgive yourself when you make mistakes. 

And finally – since this is a book blog after all – what are you currently reading?
Dune by Frank Herbert

***

With a few quick internet searches, you can discover the ideal plants for your area as well as local nurseries to explore!

Here in San Antonio, I’ve visited the Rainbow Gardens Nursery which has not only plants but also statues, potting materials, and other garden decor. They also offer tons of information on their Learning Center.

The Monthly Gardening section even lists what vegetables you should plant by month.

What are your favorite plants to work with? Happy planting, friends!

Many thanks to Hannah for being today’s special guest!

Disclaimer/Disclosure: Views and opinions shared by guests may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Oak + River Books. Information contained within this post are for entertainment purposes only and should not be used or referenced as professional advice. Please contact a professional for information regarding any of the contents above. Unless otherwise noted, photos on this post are owned by Hannah and used with her permission; she is to be credited in any sharing of the materials contained on this post.

Book Reviews

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam is not your typical suspense novel.

The best way to describe Leave the World Behind is that it is somehow both subtle and specific.

Human nature + the unknown + what we do when we are put to the test are themes throughout.

I will not lie – while it picked up at the end, I struggled with a good chunk of this book. Leave the World Behind is certainly not an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It is at times (purposefully?) slow.

The writing style is also in stark contrast to the books I normally read. One thing specifically is that I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

After I finished reading, I watched a couple short videos of Rumaan Alam talking about Leave the World Behind and I think if I had watched them while I was having Motivation Difficulties, it would have helped – must remember this tip for future reading!

What kept me going were the overall themes and that I was intrigued by the concept itself. Plus this line specifically I really enjoyed: “if they weren’t human, in this moment, then they were nothing.”

This book was hard to read while I was reading it, but I’ve been thinking about the concepts ever since. Maybe that’s just as important, if not more so. That almost makes me want to read it again – so I can see what I missed the first time.

The mystery of the emergency in the city also compelled me to keep reading because I wanted to find out what actually happened.

In summary, I’m glad I read it. It was easy to put down but impossible to forget about so I kept coming back to it. I think it’ s important to explore texts outside of our “reading comfort zone”.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam sounds more my speed – it’s about two best friends who grow up and have to find out if they can still be best friends. That’s definitely a concept I’m familiar with. I think I’ll give that one a shot next 🙂

Read more about Rumaan Alam and his other projects here.

Successful reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Happiness Week + Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies

Over the course of multiple weeks, I read Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lillies while working out on my treadmill.

It took some adjusting, I assure you. I’ve read on a stationary bike before but the treadmill was a new ballgame.

I would definitely recommend that you do not read this book while on the treadmill because if you – like me – like to journal or take notes, it’s really hard to do while working out. I took pictures of a couple things with my phone or saved something in the notes app, but it’s not quite the same.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies will motivate you to create a life surrounded by the things you love from the inside out. Your existence will be full to the brim with reminders of the the things that make you happy. From the way you treat others to the way you respect yourself, this book will have something for you.

One thing Tara Schuster suggested in the book is writing down your wishes and putting them in a pretty place that is meaningful to you. Hers is a macaron box, mine also happens to be a macaron box. It’s a beautiful dark green with gold writing and is the perfect vessel for wishes both big and small. It had been sitting on a counter because I couldn’t bear to throw it away – destiny obviously had a plan for it. 🙂

She also shares a gratitude exercise she received as a recommendation – writing down a certain amount of things you’re grateful for every day in a journal. If you do that every day for a month, that’s 300 things to be grateful for! And if you did it for a whole year? That’s 3,650 things! You’ll likely repeat some things, but being able to recognize gratitude in even the smallest moments is important.

Her book (and some personal events) inspired me to do a “happiness challenge”. From January 20th to January 31st, I did one thing every day that made me happy, with the caveat that it be something I was doing intentionally for myself.

Doing things for your own happiness is so so so important to our wellness and self-worth. Tara Schuster reminded me that I am deserving of being treated intentionally well.

I am not an after-thought. I am not on this earth for passive consideration.

By treating myself well, I show others how I want to be treated.

This does not mean I want other people to buy me pearls and wine & dine me (don’t get me wrong, that sounds great!) This exercise helped shape my perception of treatment that I will accept from men in particular.

I have long struggled with less-than-adequate behavior from men being justified as something exceptional and noteworthy. I do not need a wealthy partner, but I do need someone who understands that the bare minimum will not fly. We all deserve to be treated in the best possible way.

This does not mean someone wealthy who can buy you things. This means someone’s intentions and actions match – if not exceed – the level of respect and care you know you deserve.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the happiness week and a lot happened emotionally that sidelined the blog. Revisiting this post at this particular time is major because it goes to show how much I once again began to prioritize other things over my own happiness. Although, I have been able to stick with a daily journaling practice because of it – so something positive did come about.

I like to buy myself flowers every week or so to add color and freshness to my home.

My Happiness Activities

Day 1 – Got fancy at home in a dress + pearls
Day 2 – Bought myself beautiful white flowers that looked good everywhere in my house
Day 3 – Did a writing exercise (check out the blog post here)
Day 4 – Baking – almond flour chocolate chip banana bread
Day 5 – Watched some Jim Gaffigan stand-up
Day 6 – Taking photos and playing around with editing
Day 7 – Laughing with others and getting to know them
Day 8 – Running
Day 9 – Singing and listening to music I love
Day 10 – Hiking
Day 11 – Grocery shopping

I will note that on day 10, I did my activity – hiking – and did not feel happier in those moments. I fully recognized that hiking generally makes me happy and on that particular day it did not. This lesson was important for two reasons:
1. It reminded me that we are humans with various stressors going on internally and externally
2. I did the activity anyway, knowing that I wouldn’t at least feel worse for having tried.

White wine for little moments ❤

What makes you happy? What inspires you to spread joy or a lesson learned?

Check out more from Tara Schuster and learn about her book at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews, books, Poetry, Special Guests

Author Q+A with Alma Gray

Alma Gray is the pseudonym of Serenity Brame and the author behind Lucid Lies, a self-described collection of dark and passionate poetry. Released in 2020, Lucid Lies was a work years in the making and explores the rawest parts of ourselves.

Poetry can be used to both escape and explore reality. I like to think of poetry as the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potty series – it’s what you need it to be when you need it. One day you could read a poem and you think it means one thing, but a few years later – when you’re at a different place in life – you see it with an entirely fresh perspective.

Alma Gray’s collection Lucid Lies explores emotions that come from a deep place. Read on to learn what inspires Alma Gray, why she prefers free-verse poetry, and what we can look forward to next.

Congratulations on publishing your first poetry collection Lucid Lies! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Serenity, I love anything and everything related to art (the darker and weirder the better). 

How did you get started as a writer?
In the first grade I had a wonderful teacher, Ms. Singley, and she was so encouraging when it came to creating art and writing stories. She had this rare ability to cultivate a sense of adventure during her lessons, and it inspired me to start painting and writing. I began writing stories, then journal entries, and eventually took a stab at poetry.

What inspired you to work on Lucid Lies and ultimately publish it?
I wrote the majority of these poems during high school. Reading and writing morbid content was my escape from reality at the time. Eventually, my feelings took shape in the form of free-verse. When I gained independence, I started to separate myself from escapism as I learned healthier alternatives. This publication was a very therapeutic experience. It sort of felt like I could finally put the past aside, move on, and step into a life I desired.

These poems are so raw and cover topics that can be very personal. Why are these topics important to you?
They’re important to me because they sort of defined my identity as a kid. I couldn’t open up to anyone in my life which is why loneliness and despair are recurrent motifs throughout this collection. I felt like an outsider because of the weight I carried in my heart, and I assumed it was an inescapable burden that I would simply have to live with. Though I’m in a much healthier place in my life, angsty poetry will have a special place in my heart forever.

One element that stands out in Lucid Lies is the imagery; the use of color specifically spoke to me in the way that it helped set the tone and evoke feeling. You also apply free-verse. Why did you choose these styles?
Descriptive imagery has always been my favorite literary device. I have a bunch of weird ideas bouncing around in my head, and both imagery and free-verse help me to express them best. 

What was your writing practice like and did it change while working on this collection?
When it comes to poetry, I typically write when I feel very strong emotions. Since I didn’t write them with the intention to publish, my writing style remained the same. 

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Lucid Lies?
The editing process was very difficult. I’m a big believer in breaking grammatical rules for the sake of poetic nuance, but I reigned it in a lot to appease the kindle publishing guidelines.

How did you choose the title Lucid Lies?
I just made a list of titles that sounded pretty to me. Some runner ups were ‘Sunkissed and Sappy’, ‘Daisies Picked to Death’, and ‘Tempered Passions’.

Is there anything specific in your life that inspires you to write?
The messy yet tender aspects of love inspires me. Movies, books, and music inspires me. Anything sad inspires me. My dreams and nightmares definitely spur a lot of creative energy. I pretty much write about anything, no matter how silly. I once wrote about a raccoon that was caught in a trap set up on the roof. I even wrote a poem about the “that’s what she said” jokes from The Office.

Do you share your works in progress or wait until they are complete?
I typically wait unless I really need a second opinion on something that will affect the entire work. 

What is one thing you want to share with readers about this collection?
I hesitated to include anything that appears to romanticize substance abuse/mental illness, and I’m hoping it doesn’t come off that way. Majority of the situations I wrote about are fictional.

Why did you decide to publish under a pseudonym? What is significant about the name Alma Gray?
I intend to publish any future novels under my real name. Since this is very different from the type of work I want to publish in the future, I felt it was better to publish it under a pseudonym. 

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes, I’m currently writing a YA novel about a teen who discovers she has very special abilities when she goes searching for a lost family member. I’m still writing poetry, but it’s mostly about mental wellness and self love.

What advice would you give to other writers who are new to writing poetry?
I’d say if it’s written with passion, it’s something to be proud of. I recommend trying out every form, but I love that free-verse poetry allows for unmitigated passion, redundancy, and pure mess. I hope people new to poetry abuse this style to aid in creative expression.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell myself to start reading at a higher level. I was very interested in reading about vampires and werewolves, so I didn’t focus on advanced texts until later in high school.

Who are your favorite poets?
Kris Kidd and Sylvia Plath.

And finally, what are you currently reading?
I’m scatterbrained so I’m circling between House of Leaves, Dogs of Detroit, and Good Bones and Simple Murders. 

Many thanks to Serenity for participating in today’s Q+A! Lucid Lies is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Be sure to keep an eye out for future works by author Serenity Brame.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Domestic violence resources can be found at the Hotline. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Book Reviews

Discussion: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Mikki Kendall’s “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” is FULL of important information.

Feminism is not just for women and is not just about women – but so much of it is about women using their voices to help.

Mikki Kendall’s essays will inspire you to think twice about your actions and what it means to serve a community.

A discussion of this book is the first video posted on my new YouTube page. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

In 2021, let’s continue to diversify our narratives and stand up to the call to action.

Have a great weekend, friends!

Writing, Writing Exercise

Writer Igniter Prompt: The Masked Magician

Good morning, friends!

Today’s post is inspired by the diyMFA writer igniter. I have used this tool a handful of times and want to start using it more to build my writing habit.

diyMFA offers tons of info on writing, reading, and building your community. You will love it!

Today I am sharing a short (very short) story I wrote based on the igniter prompts.

My process involves:
1. shuffling the igniter tool
2. spending a minute or two thinking of an idea I want to explore
3. writing for five minutes to help force some words on paper
4. cleaning up the story and adding more details

Check out the video below to see the igniter in action. (Goal for this year: laptop upgrade. What are some good laptops for writers??)

I am starting simple with this practice. You can adjust it to your level – maybe you want to write for 15 minutes straight, or even longer!

After you are done writing, you can critique your own pieces to see what worked well and what didn’t, and also ask a trusted friend (note: this is the community part of the process) what their critiques are. I have put my own critiques below the story.

As I am about to start spring semester of graduate school, I will not be doing this particular exercise every day. Eventually, I do want to do a one-week challenge where I write a mini-story every day for seven days. Perhaps at the mid-semester break!

And remember, the igniter prompts are just that – prompts. If you are inspired to go a different direction once you start writing, who’s stopping you? The prompt police? It’s not a requirement.

One caveat is this: Doing an exercise that includes sticking to the actual prompts can help you branch out your knowledge base. For example, one time I had a prompt about a water polo referee.

My knowledge of water polo is pretty limited; luckily, the situation was that they were running into an ex in a quaint European village. I made the story about how a female referee was facing backlash for a questionable call, which she firmly believes she was in the right for. However, the foul she called was against her secret ex-lover. Fast forward to Europe, and she’s going to run into him at a women’s water polo tournament.

I actually want to explore that story more because I had fun with it. And that’s the goal! Having fun and building ourselves 🙂

Without further ado, on to today’s prompt!

The Masked Magician

This was shaping up to be the strangest party Isaac had ever been asked to work at.

Where even are we? he thought as the black sedan rolled into the “parking lot” – not so much a lot as it was a crunchy, rocky area where trucks and old cars were sitting.

“Boss, are you sure about this?” Isaac said to Bill, who was in the driver’s seat. Bill was a man of great repute; he had been a magician for decades and knew all the best spots.

This barn in the middle of nowhere – that looked like it could keel over at any time – was decidedly not the best spot.

“Of course,” Bill said, but Isaac noticed a drop of sweat on Bill’s upper lip and the way Bill’s hands clenched and unclenched the steering while, knuckles white. Bill unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the car and headed to the trunk of the car. “Props won’t unpack themselves, Isaac.”

Isaac nodded, even though he realized Bill couldn’t see him anymore. He sat in the car a minute longer and looked around.

Isaac had grown up in the city. He wasn’t used to the country life. He was fairly certain he had never even seen a real barn before. Maybe the fake one they put up for the Harvest Festival which was really just an excuse for people to party and drink, and he could perform his tricks and make a few bucks and no one would be any the wiser. He sighed and got out of the car.

“Hey, is this your mask?” Bill called.

“What?” Isaac asked as he came around the back of the car.

Isaac didn’t have time to look at whatever it was Bill was holding. Suddenly, a gunshot blasted from nowhere. Isaac dived for the ground. Bill lurched forward into the trunk. Time froze. Isaac heard distant laughter. If it was possible, Isaac also froze even more.

Who is shooting at us?  Isaac thought frantically.

That’s when he noticed it: the mask.

Bill must have dropped it and it fell to the ground. Something about the mask pulled Isaac in. He seemed to forget all about the gunshot and Bill’s dead body above him.

Isaac gingerly reached out to pick up the mask. It was white, perfectly white, on one side. The other side was black, and made him think of charcoal and night. The mask was light in his hands and pliable. He realized this mask was reversible.

Isaac was trying to decide which side to wear when a voiced hollered, “You boy! Are you coming to do the show, or what?”

Isaac looked towards the voice and saw an old man in overalls. As Isaac remembered where he was and what he was doing there, the severity of what had just happened hit him.

“I can’t. I have to take care of my friend.” It would occur to Isaac later that he didn’t ask for medical help.

“What friend?”

“Bill, he was just –“ Isaac turned back to the trunk of the car “-shot.” He grew angry as he faced the man again. “Where is he? What did you do with his body?”

“What body?”

Isaac’s heart raced. He squeezed his eyes, closed tight. Am I dreaming? Please let this be a dream.

“Best come inside before yer supper gets cold. Come on now.”

“I think I should go back.”

“How? You gonna walk 200 miles?”

Jesus had we really driven 200 miles to get to this dump?

“I’m leaving!” Isaac shouted. He turned to get the keys from Bill.

Crap, that’s right. Bill was gone.

And now the car was gone, too.

What the hell is going on? Isaac felt like he could have a breakdown any moment. Why were they playing games with him?

“Son, I don’t like havin’ to ask the same thing so many times,” the man said. He had come up next to Isaac and put his hand gently on Isaac’s shoulder. “Please come inside.”

The way the man said “please” struck Isaac as somehow endearing and threatening. Isaac looked down at the mask in his hands. A surge of anger and confusion went through him.

Isaac turned to follow the man into the barn. On the way, Isaac tried to decide what to do about Bill, their car, these weirdos in the middle of nowhere.

Isaac stopped on the outside of the big barn door and fiddled with his mask. He decided to wear the black side facing out – it seemed a little more mysterious.

Isaac vowed to seek vengeance as soon as he figured out what was going on.

Mask firmly in place, Isaac walked inside the barn.

Critiques: I like a good cliffhanger, so ending on this note felt natural to me. In a second draft, I would add more detail to the setting. What I wrote didn’t adequately explain what I was picturing in my head. Future me would also ask a friend for input. Someone with an outside perspective will have questions that you can answer in your writing; this will help the audience understand your vision. I picture the above scenario as the beginning of a story that would hopefully entice readers to continue reading and learn what happens next and what happened to Bill and the car. Also, oftentimes I like to read aloud what I wrote. This allows you to hear dialogue and now if it sounds natural or not.

Writing prompts can also be catalysts for bigger stories. Explore and enjoy the journey wherever it leads you!

I can’t wait to see what you create! Happy writing, friends!

Book Reviews

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman tells the story of Maria Owens – a young witch, afraid to fall in love, afraid to let anyone have power over her being.

I remember watching Practical Magic with my mom and my sister, thinking – obviously – how cool it would be to be able to do magic.

And did anyone else think those pancakes looked amazing??

I haven’t read Practical Magic, but I did previously read The Rules of Magic (which I also highly recommend). Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t read PM yet… This will be my one and only 2021 new years resolution.

I digress.

Love is fickle, they say. Love is patient and kind.

I don’t know what I believe about love at this point in my life. I’m grappling with some personal things, so if I may be fully transparent, it was difficult for me to get into Magic Lessons because I did not want to think about love when I started reading it. It’s not a traditional romance novel, but the emotion of love in this story feels very strong to me. Any talk of heartbreak makes me want to bury my head in the sand, yet I persevered.

(I recently did two romance novels reviews and while I only briefly mentioned the above in one of those reviews, my sentiment holds true. It is very difficult sometimes for me to read about love. In a Holidaze was funny and The Right Swipe let me get out some of my online dating angst.)

But my favorite parts of this story would not exist without love – when Maria falls in love, when she is so tormented that she casts the now-famous (dare I say infamous?) curse on the Owens women, when her love for her daughter consumes her.

This tale takes the reader from England to Curacao and eventually Massachusetts and New York, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way – some good, some bad.

Ultimately, this story reminds us that we must all decide to use our gifts for good or evil, for love or vengeance. Even the gifts that some people can’t see.

Alice Hoffman has written TONS of books that all look simply magical! Learn more about Alice Hoffman and her other works at her website.

Happy reading, friends!