As the week comes to a close, think back to your own teachers. Who inspired you to be who you are today? Many of us have at least one teacher that we remember fondly and know they deserve some credit for how we turned out.
There are a few teachers from my k-12, undergrad, and now graduate program that I can say with full confidence have helped me to be the best version of myself. What better way to thank them than by paying it forward?
Today’s Q+A features Danielle Diamond Nepstad. I have known Danielle since elementary school and have loved seeing her live her passions – first as a musician and now also as an educator.
Read on to learn what you can find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf and why she decided to join the field of education!
Q. How did reading help shape who you are today? As a child, I was fortunate to have two loving, bookworm-parents! They instilled their love for reading within my older sister and me from the very start. Nightly bedtime stories, weekly trips to the public library, and Reading Rainbow all came together to foster my love for literature. Some of my earliest memories are of reading to my stuffed animals and invisible students!
Q. What were your favorite books when you were a kid? It’s so hard to narrow down my favorite books as a kid, but I do remember especially loving books by Robert Munsch; The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, as well as Holes; and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. In elementary school, I loved reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, as well as a book on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement (I can’t remember its title, but I hope to stumble upon it someday!).
Q. Your job title is 1st Year Reading Interventionist. Could you explain what that is and what motivated you to pursue this career? I always knew I wanted to be a teacher at some point in life, so in May 2020, I received my Elementary/Middle School teaching license in the state of Wisconsin. With that, I am able to teach all content areas between Grades 1-8. When it came to applying for jobs last year, I knew I wanted to work in my hometown district as a way of giving back to the community that helped raise me. The district didn’t have any classroom positions open, but they were hiring for reading interventionists. I jumped at the opportunity, and luckily, was given a position! It has been a fun experience (despite the crazy pandemic year), and I’ve learned so much.
Before obtaining my teaching license, I was a Special Education paraprofessional in both elementary and high school settings. I truly love working with students of all ages! Someday, I’d like to earn my secondary licensure, but I pursued elementary/middle school because I was able to complete the program faster (and get to work faster)! Ultimately, I would love to teach middle school or high school English Language Arts. Still, there’s something special about working in an elementary school. They are so darn cute and full of curiosity. I love their enthusiasm.
My position is mostly working with students who have reading goals within their IEPs [Individualized Education Plans], so it’s almost like I’m part Reading Specialist, part Special Education teacher. I work with students on their phonological and phonemic awareness skills, as well as strategies to help them strengthen their fluency and comprehension. Most of my caseload consists of students in Grades 4-6. I pull some students for small group sessions, but other times, I am pushing into classrooms to support during their literacy blocks. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
“I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them.”
Q. What kinds of books can we find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf? Are students allowed to check them out and bring them home to read? My classroom library is full of texts from authors and illustrators of all ethnicities, races, religions, and gender identities. I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them. I have everything from picture books, middle grade chapter books, and YA novels, even though I currently work in a K-6 building.
I have a weekly video series I share with the district called “First Chapter Fridays” in which I read a picture book and the first chapters of a novel in hopes of exciting students to read. If a book interests them, they can contact me to borrow it. I’ve had a lot of teachers reach out and use my library, too! I haven’t figured out a reliable system for checking out books to students, especially with COVID protocols. But hopefully next year, I’ll have a better system going!
Q. With your passion for creating art, have you ever written a children’s story or another kind of book? If not, do you have any aspirations to do so? I have always wanted to write a children’s book! It is definitely a life goal. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been naturally drawn to the art of children’s literature. (If you ever get to take a course in that subject matter, do it!) With my experiences in music, creative writing, and education, I think I have all the ingredients to begin the process. Taking the leap is the scariest part, but I have a lot of ideas just waiting to be put on paper. I better go re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I highly recommend it for anyone, no matter what your goals may be!
Q. What are you currently reading? I’m currently reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, as well as The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole.
Q. Are there any mottos you live by? I try to read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist once a year. There are so many incredible passages from the book, and I suppose I consider them mottos. Two of my favorites are:
“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
As Teach Appreciation Week comes to end, remember you can thank a teacher (current or former) all year round!
Not everyone has to be a teacher in order to share their knowledge and experience. There are countless ways to provide wisdom to others: volunteering, mentoring, coaching, etc. There are probably times you’ve taught someone a thing or two and didn’t even realize it!
Thanks so much to Danielle for being today’s special guest! I know she will have a great influence on all who are blessed to learn with her.
In The Last Tree Town, Cassi Chord is coming to terms with growing up – identity, culture, heritage, sisterhood, friendships, family dynamics, and mental health are all important elements of Beth Turley’s latest work.
“It’s been forty-seven days since our last night of s’mores and scary stories. The number forty-seven has too many sharp edges.”
I really enjoyed The Last Tree Town. It’s classified as a middle school-aged book and I wish I had read a book like this when I was 12.
Turley’s story pieces together many of the things I hadn’t been able to say then and oftentimes struggle to say now.
Because of that, laughter and tears were also common as I read.
I stare at the threes until they look like eights and hearts and fish. I forget if the sum of a bunch of negatives is eventually positive or if it just stays negative forever.”
I really enjoyed Beth Turley’s writing style!
The mix of memories, present day narrative, and diary entries made for short, efficient chapters.
Quirky little details brought the characters to life. For example, Cassi loves numbers.
In the story, Cassi relates issues she encounters to math theories. I love that Cassi excels at math and that the Math Olympics group in the story has three girls in it and not just one “token” female mathlete.
I cannot speak to Cassi’s experiences growing up as Puerto Rican and Caucasian. I can, however, relate to the other things a 12 year old girl experiences – crushes, older sister dynamics, shifting friend groups, complete awareness of the self without actually knowing who that self is.
Depression is a key element of the story. Its effect on the Chord family and their friends is palpable and all too real. It’s inspiring and comforting to read about this health issue in The Last Tree Town because it gives me hope that there will be a positive impact around the stigma.
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. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.
Learn more about Beth Turley and her works on her author website.
Things The Sanatorium has: murder, mystery, history, anticipation, and an unforgettable ending.
I finished this book on a cold, grey, drizzly night. Definitely spent the next hour or two feeling like there was someone watching me. Thanks a lot, Sarah! *accusatory but secretly thrilled stare in her direction*
One of the reasons I like this book is that Sarah Pearse did such a good job of making anyone seem like a suspect that I had to get to the end to find out who did it.
I even suspected the main character a few times!
And while along the way I had plenty of speculations, Pearse provides a few surprises to keep us on our toes.
And that ending! I can’t give too much away but let’s just say, it made me want to go back and immediately re-read the whole book to look for clues!
On a personal note, finishing a book lately has been a mental struggle for me. We are all exhausted with many things and I was so happy when I finished this. Starting to feel back in my groove!
Have you read The Sanatorium? Let me know in the comments what you thought or if it’s on your tbr!
This post comes from prompt 1 in a writing group I am in with a friend called the World’s Most Low-Key Writing Club. It’s a 10-minute writing exercise. I didn’t do any editing so it’s very raw but very real.
Content warning: stress eating, body image
I’m sharing this prompt in particular because I think a lot of us need to know we are not alone in our negative thoughts about our bodies – if you don’t have any, tell me your secret! Confidence and self-love are something that are a constant struggle in my life and I want to share with others that it’s okay to feel the way you feel.
More detailed explanation and thoughts are on the Oak + River Books podcast!
*Note: if you are struggling with body image or eating, please consult a professional. This post in no way intends to treat or diagnose – it is solely my personal experience and thoughts.*
Prompt #1: If I could change one thing about myself…
This has two meanings to me. The first – that I thought of first – is “what is the physical thing you would change about yourself?” For me, that’s easy. I would literally just change the way my body looks. It would always be proportionate, even when I’m in a plus-size status. Outside of the body positivity movement – and even sometimes in it – there is a right way and a wrong way to be plus size. If you are pear shaped or hourglass shaped (echo all of the female comedians questioning why we have to be like fruits), then you are in the clear. Your body is “desirable”. But an apple shaped woman? Oh no. You have fat in all the wrong places. Your body’s way of distributing it makes you disgusting – instead of just curvy or thick. I don’t know what it’s like in the men’s scene. There is still work to be done there, too. I just hate feeling like my “mom bod” is less worthy than a “dad bod”. It makes me wonder how much time I’m spending looking at other people’s bodies – wondering why and how they look the way they do, wondering what their parents look like, wondering what they eat or if they fast. I am obsessed with other people’s bodies not because I’m a stalker but because I’m vain. I didn’t know I was vain. I just thought I hated the way I looked and everyone else hated the way they looked and that’s just how life was. Time moves on and post-Navy I think will be a healthier head space for me. It’s not that I’m okay with anyone being unhealthy, I’m just not okay with feeling like I am a horrible human because I’m not beautiful.
The second thought I had regarding this is what personality trait would I change about myself. It’s no secret I get obsessive… let’s say passionate. My heart is huge and heavy and love comes pouring out of it – but it’s often misguided. I have a tattoo on my ribcage that says “let love not wander”. I don’t know the real inspiration for it. I was just thinking about cool tattoos to get one day and this phrase popped in my head and I said, “That’s the one.” And I went that day to get it. My love wanders because it grows. It wanders because it tries to enter homes where it’s not welcome. It wanders because it’s searching for another love just like it. My love is loud and forceful. I need someone who loves just as forcefully but in a quiet way. A sturdy presence. A solidity. Someone who doesn’t run when things get tough. Or when I get emotional. Someone who will let me be mad and then we’ll talk about it and we’ll move and no one will hold grudges. Someone who will argue with me about leaving socks on the floor, or what color to paint the walls, or what to make for dinner tonight. I don’t even want to really argue, I just want to bicker a little bit. I don’t want someone who is passive and chill about every little thing. I have a fire in me and if I feel like I’m stomping over someone else all the time with it, I will make both of us miserable. So I want to let my love be free. I want it to roam and seek out corners and crevices and shadows. But I don’t want it to go banging down doors it doesn’t belong at. Crossing thresholds destined for someone else. I want to accept that sometimes life just doesn’t work the way we want it to, or the way we imagined it would. Sometimes I want the fact that I have loved at all to be enough. But this is not sustaining. My love will flourish when it is loved in return. When it no longer has to wander alone.
Most of all, I would change the way I love myself. Because most of the time, I don’t. I know my good traits – funny, smart, witty, caring. But I feel like if I don’t tell people my bad traits, they’ll think I’m hiding them. So often I have the urge to be like “I shouldn’t be eating this because I need to lose weight” or “I know I’m annoying but…” Why can’t I just love myself enough to be confident? Why can’t I love my own heart enough to trust that it will be okay? The best thing God has in store for me is not what I’m currently experiencing. Am I really so arrogant to think that THIS is the best God can do? THE BEST? He knows my heart and he knows my love and while I absolutely disagree that people need to love themselves in order to be loved by others, I think I do need to love myself more. I have heard that often enough I finally am on the cusp of believing I am unworthy of others’ love because I do not love myself. But I need to love myself as fiercely as I try to love other things. Fiercely and unabashedly.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.