blogging, My Life

5 Things I Learned in My First Month of Blogging

Hi, friends!

To commemorate my first month of blogging, I wanted to write about my experience and five things I’ve learned so far.

Oak + River Books is not a blog about blogging. I will probably never write a post on how to make a six figure salary while working from home and raising a zoo of children and cooking dinner while my “hubby” – who will always be tricked into eating my healthy meals! – does who knows what.

I’m not mad about those posts, though; some of y’all have AMAZING recipes!

I do want to commemorate that I’ve made it a whole month without quitting. Yay!

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

How often do we actually follow through with the things we say we’re going to do? Probably not as much as we think we do.

If you’re anything like me, obligation is the precursor to failed projects and misery. While some obligations are unavoidable and are better dealt with sooner rather than later (thank you, auto pay) we have the power to decide where to invest our time and energy.

This article by Living the Sunshine Life lists 17 signs that you’re on the wrong path. There is no one life path for all humans. Are you on the right path for you?

Some of these signs I have experienced or currently am, and it’s so glaringly obvious to me now – I am exhausted by certain obligations.

Starting Oak + River Books was one of the first steps I have taken in a very long time to doing what truly makes me happy. Obligations that drain you are not the same as challenges that will help you grow – repeat after me: I will not allow myself to get burnt out!

When something suits you, it feeds you more than it weighs you. Even if it is difficult, it will provide you with good, bright energy that remains inside you.

Living the Sunshine Life

They say when you know, you know. Maybe they say it about true love, but it also applies here. Blogging should be fun. Whether you want to make money or keep it as a hobby (like I’m currently doing), check out five things I’ve learned so far to help you on your journey.

5 Things I Learned in My First Month of Blogging

  1. It will be easier if it’s fun but also easier if you have a schedule. Set yourself up for success by writing about what inspires you and doing one or two posts a week at most (more or less if you want – as Tabitha Brown says, that’s your business). The beauty of most blogs is the pre-publish feature; this allows you to write in advance then set the date and time and let it auto-publish.
  2. Learn how to garner traffic. This is one of my on-going goals. Read into search engine optimization (SEO) and what tools can assist you. Additionally, build your social media brand. I own my domain name, and my blog is linked to a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a Pinterest account – all with the same name. Create pins that link back to your posts. Create eye-catching images; I recommend the Canva and Snapseed apps which have a lot of free options.
  3. Join the blogging community. Now that you have a blog or a blog idea, join blogging groups! On Facebook, I am a member of Pinterest Ninjas, Book Bloggers, Blogging for New Bloggers, and The Smart Blogging Approach. The regular websites for Blogging for New Bloggers and The Smart Blogging Approach have a TON of helpful articles. Groups have promo days when you can promote a Pin, a blog post, or a social media link which exposes you to lots of new potential followers. These are excellent communities to learn from. Look for other bloggers in your niche in those threads and in other search engines; I have found a quite few people to follow this way. It can turn into a time commitment so don’t feel pressured to participate in EVERY promo opportunity or spend hours a day looking for people to connect with – remember what we decided about obligation? Do. Not. Get. Burnt. Out.
  4. Decide if you want to blog as a hobby or to make money. These two goals have very different strategies – especially for monetizing. With either, engaging with the community through likes, comments, and shares is vital but blogging for money will need more engagement. There are a lot of resources available to help you. The two I linked above have some great resources. There are so many people with successful blogs or creating new blogs, so there’s lots of experience to draw from. Monetize for the right reasons and not because it’s the cool thing to do. If you get that little nagging feeling in your gut that says you’re doing something wrong, listen to it and reevaluate your motives, goals, and strategies to ensure they are in alignment with your truth.
  5. Not everyone will care about your blog as much as you do. This is okay! Blogs are not for everyone. One person told me, “Your blog looks nice, it’s just not something I’m interested in.” I know this person pretty well and know for a fact that they aren’t interested in blogging regardless of the niche. I create content to express myself, inspire others to think new thoughts, and because I am a social person. I like talking to people and learning about them. You will find a like-minded community, even if it doesn’t happen right away. It will all be worth it. Just be yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what a blog should do or look like. You are the captain of this ship. ❤

What have you learned from blogging? Did any of these these things speak to you? Let me know in the comments!

Book Reviews

Book Review: THICK and Other Essays

THICK and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, was one of my August Book of the Month Club selections. It is eye-opening, descriptive, and academic (the 20 pages of notes and references rocked my world).

THICK is not a history book. While McMillan Cottom draws on personal experiences, it is not specifically autobiographical enough to be a classic memoir. It is academic without reading like a textbook. It does combine all of these elements. McMillan Cottom says in the text that it’s a loose version of “opinion writing”.

THICK is not a long read, but it is hefty. It’s not a book that feels right to devour in one afternoon because a) some of the sentences I had to read five times, out loud, slowly, and reword to make my brain comprehend them and b) this is Important Stuff.

What is Important Stuff? Historically, those who held power, money, and title decided what other people should think was important. For a long time, certain groups’ opinions on what was and was not important did not matter – especially if they couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and couldn’t speak English, and therefore could not vote.

“If my work is about anything it is about making plain precisely how prestige, money, and power structure our so-called democratic institutions so that most of us will always fail.”

Tressie Mcmillan cottom – “Girl 6” in THICK AND OTHER ESSAYS

Black women and Black peoples should not be delegated to the role of a statistic. Yet they are. And people still don’t believe them, and they choose to not believe or rely on statistics that don’t mesh with a pre-determined opinion.

Important Stuff includes anti-racism not only by educating ourselves and admitting to ourselves, if not others, that we are wrong – even if we don’t profit from systemic traits, we at least are not worse off because of it – but by also acting upon it. I look at my life and think of how so many people say “I don’t see color” and I remember when that’s something i would thought was progressive. But it only hides the issue. It doesn’t change reality.

Reading THICK and Other Essays can be part of the catalyst for us all to learn more while we do more.

To learn more about Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, and her other works, visit her website.

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

Obtainable Orchids feat. the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center

This is Part 3 of a three-part Botanical Garden seriesfeaturing gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

The South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is an orchid lover’s dream! While there had been an orchid exhibit there for many years, in 2015 the newly-built greenhouses officially became the Samuel Jones Orchid Conservatory.

Samuel Jones was an avid orchidist. He built the original orchid homes at the Gardens and, prior to his passing in 2018, taught classes on how to grow and care for orchids.

Like many flowers, symbolic meanings have been attributed to the colors. The following list comes directly from FTD By Design:

  • White orchids symbolize innocence and purity, as well as elegance and reverence.
  • Pink orchids symbolize femininity, grace, and joy.
  • Yellow orchids symbolize friendship and new beginnings. They make great gifts for a friend to celebrate an accomplishment.
  • Purple orchids symbolize royalty and admiration, and are traditionally given as a sign of respect.
  • Orange orchids symbolize pride, enthusiasm, and boldness.”

The South Texas Gardens doesn’t only have orchids – they care for animals like birds and turtles, have a butterfly garden, and their walking trails are DOG FRIENDLY.

If you read my post The Orchid Graveyard, you know that I have some trouble with over-watering my plants. Orchids especially take the brunt.

That’s one of the reasons I love going to the South Texas Gardens and hanging out in the orchid greenhouses, snapping pics while quietly reveling in the beautiful colors, shapes, and sizes.

Look at those colors! Do you feel convinced to start growing orchids again or for the first time? I do!

Luckily, the American Orchid Society offers many tips & tidbits to make successful growing of orchids obtainable even for those of us with less-than-green thumbs. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t over water – water for a few seconds then let drain; don’t be tempted to over water or water again too soon.
  2. Use a fertilizer “weakly, weekly” – on a watered plant, use small amounts weekly instead of monthly all at once.
  3. Repot into a bigger pot when the plant starts growing over the side (divide if necessary).
  4. Plant in a fast-draining but water-retentive “medium” – medium is what the plant is planted in, such as peat, bark, sand, or a combination of a multitude of ingredients. (Read more about potting media here.) The article specifically mentions bark-based, peat-based, and aliflor.
  5. Orchids need sufficient light to rebloom – leaves should be a lighter, grassy color instead of dark green. East- or south-facing windows are ideal.

That doesn’t seem too bad!

Every weekend (and sometimes during the work week, let’s be honest) I have the urge to drive down to Corpus Christi and go to our favorite spots: The Coffee Mugg (Harry Potter themed!), the Texas State Aquarium, and the Gardens.

When things settle down, the orchids at the Gardens are the first place I want visit.

To tide you over until your next botanical garden excursion, browse more pics of the South Texas Botanical Gardens below. Pictures featured in this post are from two separate visits, one was hot and sunny and the other was cold and rainy – and both were extremely fun!

Thanks for joining me for the third installment of Oak + River Books’ three-part botanical gardens series! Happy exploring, friends!

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Death of Vivek Oji

How would you live if you carried a secret that someone would hurt you for? More, how would you die?

What would you do if you lost your only child? How would you weep? Resigned and silent… Loud and unforgiving…

In The Death of Vivek Oji, author Akwaeke Emezi shares sections of Vivek’s life and the lives of those close to him leading up to Vivek’s death and beyond.

Vivek Oji’s death is not a secret. Its occurrence is not the climax of the story.

The title is purposefully vague. While the injuries are presented, we do not know the details. Vivek’s mother, Kavita, goes in search of the truth.

She learns more than she bargained for.

We think, “Not in my town.” “Not where I live.” “That doesn’t happen here.”

And we are wrong.

The unwarranted hatred projected onto gendervariant and LQBTQ+ people throughout the world is real. And it does become violent.

When you read The Death of Vivek Oji, if you take nothing else away, think of what actions you can take to make the world a safer place for all.

What can you do to ensure the richness and fullness of life deserved by every one of us?

Other than that it makes you think, I liked that while the chapters flit between characters, it’s not confusing. Exploration of relationships – platonic, romantic, sexual, and familial – is a vital component of this story.

The character development is good and the plot is enticing. Sometimes the timeline may throw you off but take your time and connect with the characters.

And take time to think about the things in this story that give you pause or make you uncomfortable. Work through and past it.

Let me know what you think of this one, friends! Learn more abut Akwaeke Emezi and their other works and accomplishments here.

Go West, Travel & Tourism, U.S. Destinations

Dating Yourself: An Afternoon in Denver feat. the York Street Botanical Gardens

This is Part 2 of a three-part Botanical Garden seriesfeaturing gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

Dating yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your own well-being (in my opinion). You get time alone to think, or not think, and to explore the world around you. Dating yourself is a solo date that proclaims, “I am worthy of special things regardless of my partner status.”

Last September I had the fortune of taking a quick work trip to Denver. It was my first time in Colorado! When a meeting-free afternoon presented itself, I jumped at the chance to explore the city and took myself on a date.

I can’t recommend solo dates enough. To the movies, the coffee shop, a restaurant. Anywhere you want! It’s good to be alone with your thoughts and maybe a good book.

Speaking of books, does anyone else like to read books at the airport to pass the time? These were my trip purchases:

And it’s hard to read a good book without coffee!

My hotel, which was built onto an old press building, was conveniently located right next to Thump Genuine Coffee (Broadway location) where I got a deliciously refreshing cold brew.

On my last morning I also visited the laid-back but not to be outdone The Bardo Coffeehouse on South Broadway. This was the site of my first oat milk mocha! If you haven’t tried it, give it a go! I was hesitant (I’m partial to a whole milk mocha) but it was quite good.

Now – onto the solo date!

To begin the afternoon, I had a sushi and salad lunch at Hillstone – a chic locale with an elevated yet classic menu.

Hillstone’s “Nice Little House Salad”

It’s one of the most beautiful salads I’ve had the honor to consume.

After lunch I walked about three-quarters of a mile to the York Street location of the Denver Botanical Gardens. Coming from Texas, I found the weather to be heavenly and just right (read: sweat free) for an afternoon stroll.

I felt very safe walking alone here.

At the Gardens, my time was serene. There was set-up for a wedding going on and it didn’t interfere with seeing anything. Honestly I was a little jealous – what a beautiful spot for a wedding! I need to find a groom first…

With its 24 acres of gardens and collections, the York Street location also boasts the Helen Fowler Library and the Mordecai Children’s Garden.

The Gardens does a LOT of scientific work throughout the year, including specimen collection, outreach and engagement, and restoration. You can view their annual “accomplishments and endeavors” here.

The Denver Botanical Gardens inspired me to get a dahlia tattoo!

Want to spruce up your garden? They have partnered with Colorado State University Extension and Colorado Master Gardeners to provide expertise; one of their webpages is dedicated to Gardening Resources.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

After the gardens, I stopped by the Hermitage Antiquarian Bookshop and purchased a few books. I also bought The Book of Tea at the Botanical Gardens gift shop.

There is a lot to see and learn about when you visit the Denver Botanical Gardens (and all of Denver)!

I was unable to visit the Chatfield Farms location, but would love to bring my son there. “Facilities include the Earl J. Sinnamon Visitor Center, the historical Hildebrand Ranch, a restored 1918 dairy barn and silo, the 1874 Deer Creek Schoolhouse, 2.5 miles of nature trails, the Deer Creek Discovery children’s play area and numerous wildflower gardens.”

Hard not to smile at the botanical gardens!

Plus, the working farm contributes to food programs throughout the area and in the fall they have a corn maze and pumpkin patch.

Have you been convinced to take a solo date? It’s hard in the current situation but you can always get a coffee to go and read in your favorite park. A solo date can be as close or far away as you want it to be. You get to make the rules when you date yourself!

While you wait for your next trip or solo date, browse some of the photos I took below. I hope they bring to you what botanical gardens bring to me: a sense of peace, grounding, and stillness.

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

About the Writer

30 Favorites for My 30th Birthday

Happy Friday, friends! Today is my 30TH BIRTHDAY! Despite social distancing, life still shows up in little ways – not only did I manage to get an AMAZING parking spot at work (we all now how good that feeling is!), I also received an appreciation award at work today! Then on the way home we picked up some pork belly and steam buns from my favorite local Chinese restaurant.

I wont say I’m addicted to steam buns, but I won’t say I’m not either…

Pork belly from the Sichuan House

I also enlisted the expertise of a local cake artist who conveniently lives in my neighborhood. Check out this custom beauty:

Filled with buttercream, raspberry jam, and raspberry mousse

Did she deliver or did she deliver?! Rich favor and smooth texture – just what I’m looking for in a cake!

Then we video chatted with my parents and now we’re watching The Princess and The Frog – My son wanted to watch Cars and I told him, “It’s MOMMY’S birthday so I GET to pick the movie!” 🙂

It’s a night for relaxation.

Recently someone recommended breath prayers to me. I looked into it and sure enough, it has been making a difference. Although I don’t do the strict form of it; I kinda just say what feels right and apply the “speak it into in existence” concept.

For example, I inhale and say “The Lord is good” then exhale and say “Today is full of blessings.”

You can do it any time (it particularly comes in handy on my morning commute to work.) And if you’re not a Christian or want to say something else, you can still do the practice and choose your own words; it’s like a spoken meditation to center you and redirect your thoughts to what you want to focus on.

I am proud of my accomplishments this year: paying off my car, refinancing my house, being accepted into graduate school, preparing for a new career path in 2021, and reclaiming my passion for writing and sharing content with others by creating this blog.

Behind the scenes, I have donated to causes that I care about and worked to educate myself on issues I was aware existed but was grossly unfamiliar with.

2020 is the year for all of us to reclaim. And if 2020’s not your year? Guess what – 2021 is right around the corner! Every moment is a new moment. Let us build up each other and ourselves!

The rest of my post today is simple: a list of 30 favorites in honor of my 30th birthday! What are your favorite things? Let’s celebrate those!

What is my favorite…?

  1. I’ll start with Chinese restaurant, since I just mentioned it above: Sichuan House – the food is good, the customer service is good, the no contact curbside pickup is amazing, it’s like a dream
  2. To-go coffee order (regardless of where I’m ordering from): Iced Americano with light ice, a splash of cream, and sugar free vanilla
  3. Cocktail: Mojito or if i’m feeling *wild* an amaretto or whiskey sour
  4. Beer: I might be biased because I used to live about 15 minutes from their original brewery, but I do really like Leinenkugel’s; they recently came out with spritzers (“spritzen”) and the raspberry lemon flavor is my fave
  5. TV Show: Friends
  6. Sweet Treat: Anything with fudge or fudge pieces in it
  7. Salty Snack: White cheddar popcorn
  8. Outfit: Sweatpants and a sweatshirt – I’m all about being cozy
  9. Food: Cheeseburgers
  10. Color: Green
  11. Animal: Sloth
  12. Flower: Daisies and dahlias
  13. Sport: Soccer
  14. Movie: Legends of the Fall
  15. Park in San Antonio: Phil Hardberger
  16. Place I’ve hiked: Big Sur, California – plus it’s hard to beat that drive along the coast
  17. Place I’ve visited: Great Britain
  18. Place I’ve lived: Monterey, California
  19. Place to vacation: Near the ocean, I love the sound of waves on the shore and a gentle sea breeze on my skin
  20. Exercise: Jogging! I was a #cardiobunny in my long-distance running years
  21. Running event: In Texas, it’s the Whooping Crane Strut in Rockport, TX; last year I did the 5k and this year I did the 10k; it’s such a supportive group and takes place right next to the water!
  22. Modern authors: Yangsze Choo (author of The Ghost Bride and The Night Tiger – I need to watch the TV adaptation of The Ghost Bride !!) and Melissa Albert (author of The Hazel Wood and The Night Country)
  23. Place to read: My nine-year-old recliner; it’s been all over the place with me and was at my Grandma’s house for a long time towards the end of her life, so it has special place in my heart
  24. Books I’ve read so far in 2020: The history books by James Bradley, I Miss You When I Blink, and Conjure Women
  25. Book genre: Historical fiction
  26. Thing to write: Lyrics and poetry – hopefully I’ll be brave enough to share some here soon!
  27. Personality trait: I’m a good listener and enjoy connecting with people
  28. Thing about living in Texas: As an outsider, I initially found Texas to be surprisingly diverse; I love the eclectic backgrounds of its residents and that it’s very recreation-focused
  29. Thing about being a homeowner: The amazing neighbors I’ve met and that I can pretty much do whatever I want without anyone stopping me 😉
  30. Thing about being a mom: Watching my son get bigger and learn new things + snuggles 🙂

Thanks for reading! Have a fantastic weekend, friends!

Nature in the Novel, Uncategorized

Nature in the Novel: Mexican Gothic

*ATTENTION* This is not a book review. It is a post about ecocritical topics within the novel. Do not read any further if you want to read Mexican Gothic with fresh eyes! Save this post to come back and delve a little deeper. 😊 To see a spoiler-free review, click here. Thanks!

Synopsis reminder:

Noemí Taboada travels to a mansion in the misty woods to keep tabs on her questionably ill and confused cousin who was recently married to the son of an old-wealth family. After some frightening encounters, she soon learns that family secrets flow deeper than the foundation of the house. Will Noemí uncover the truth in time save her cousin, or will she even be able to save herself? 

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the beliefs/opinions of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the publishers, or the Book of the Month Club.

This post is not a book review as much as it is a brief ecocritical discourse/opinion piece.

It’s for the nerds out there.

Intended to get us all thinking critically about what we are reading.

Today we’ll use a few questions from the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s list of ecocritical questions mentioned in a previous post. Let’s dive in! 

Where is the environment placed in the power hierarchy? 

Check out this quote: “The higher the train moved and the closer it got to El Triunfo, though, the more the bucolic landscape changed and Noemí reassessed her idea of it. Deep ravines cut the land, and rugged ridges loomed outside the window. What had been charming rivulets turned into strong, gushing rivers, which spelled doom should anyone be dragged by their currents. ( . . . ) The land kept its riches in the dark, sprouting no trees with fruit. The air grew thin as the train struggled up the mountain until it sputtered and stopped.” (pg 15-16) 

(First of all, I love alliteration in any piece of writing: rugged ridges, sputtered and stopped. My heart sings!) 

A few paragraphs prior to this quote, we learned that Noemí’s family used to vacation in a house by the sea and that the forest lived more on her periphery; it was something that existed but didn’t play a role in her life – or perhaps, it’s role was its absence. Due to her father’s successful business, her family had the luxury of living and vacationing where they chose.  

We then learned that Noemí finds the quaint and colorful views from the bottom of the mountain to be pretty. To Noemí, the quality of the first landscape was in its “bucolic” identity as well as the fact that it at one point held a wealth of silver. As she gets closer to her destination (her cousin’s husband’s family home, aptly named High Place), the description becomes harsh and the “doom” of the gushing rivers foreshadows what awaits Noemí.  

Bonus anthropomorphism: The last sentence in the quote conjures an image of a train literally struggling for breath as it treks up the mountainside. Even before Noemí arrived at High Place, she had a sense of breathlessness.  

We see hierarchy represented in the literal elevation of High Place. When I lived in California, I remember driving down the coast and seeing a lone house above a cliff that looked like it could only be reached by helicopter. In Mexican Gothic, the Doyle family wants to be left alone (unless they can get something out of you) and the mistress of the house definitely doesn’t want anyone upsetting the status quo.

The Doyles view the environment as a tool to be harnessed: It is second-most powerful only to man, and the man who can control it becomes a god.

How is nature empowered or oppressed in this work? 

On the one hand, nature is viewed as something that can be taken or avoided, as is the case with Noemí’s family avoiding the forest. Though she recognizes her cousin’s romantic notions of misty woods and quaint living, Noemí views the Doyle family’s choice of land as inhospitable – too dark, too bleak, too foggy, essentially too depressing. Beyond that, nature is something to be taken advantage of: The family’s deepest secret (which I won’t even spoil here, just in case!) is a gross misuse of a divine offering.    

Through Francis’s eyes, we see a curiosity of nature. His plant enthusiasm is reminiscent of the Victorian era (see this post on Dusty Old Thing for more info about the Victorian plant craze). As we see intelligence used for both good and evil, we also see nature used to heal and to hurt.

How are animals represented in this text and what is their relationship to humans?  

Animals have a few roles in this novel. At one point, Noemi scratches the ears of a dog in town, demonstrating her character’s kindness.

There are moments when Noemi understands that she and her cousin are like the beautiful butterflies immortalized in a collection – beautiful, untouchable, too late to be saved. 

A key animal throughout the text is the snake. An image of it wrapped a circle with its own head in its mouth is the Doyle family symbol and when you find out why, is especially disturbing.

Moreno-Garcia uses the common fear of snakes to her advantage. As the Gothic Library Blog writes in the post Snakes in Gothic Literature, “Associated with deception, temptation, and sin, snakes make powerful symbols of abstract evil, in addition to the connotations they already hold as genuine objects of fear in the real world.” (She also has posts about cats and dogs in horror/gothic lit – check it out!)

Although we never see a real snake, the repeated image of one is enough to get the message across.

I feel that the absence of animals also plays a role in this text. You’ll typically see birds and woodland creatures scurrying about in places full of food and water. Clearly, High Place and it’s grounds are no inviting piece of real estate.

What is the influence on metaphors and representations of the land and the environment on how we treat it?  

One of the things that sticks out to me is the Doyle family’s silver mine. Since it was abandoned and there was no one to take care of it, is prone to flooding. If we don’t take care of nature and/or don’t take care to ensure its protections, it cannot take care of us.

What parallels can be drawn between the sufferings and oppression of groups of people (women, minorities, immigrants, etc.) and treatment of the land? 

Howard Doyle’s references to eugenics, superior and inferior races, and the blatant disregard for the Mexican miners who died under his employ show that he views the “inferior races” as disposable. They were good enough to work in his mine and make him a handsome profit, but they weren’t worth sharing it with. His attitude was much the same about women in general. Noemí and Catalina were his exceptions to the rule – he found them to be ornamental and unconventional therefore wanted them as part of his “collection.” 

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Noemí rightfully takes offense at Howard’s eugenic commentary and at his treatment of the miners. She recognizes that he only views them as tools: Mexican men for mining silver and pretty women for bearing children. One could infer that the author agrees with Noemí and that the ultimate demise of Howard corroborates this message.

Photo by Mitja Juraja on Pexels.com

I do not believe Moreno-Garcia intended this to be an environmental novel in that sense that we should start recycling and become more ecologically conscious, but to me it shows a great deal about how land and people affect and interact with each other.

The beauty of ecocritical questions is that you can apply them to anything. Unless the text is quite technical, it’s hard for it not to be shaped by the landscape in some way.

Thanks for joining me on Oak + River Books’ first Nature in the Novel post! I’m looking forward to doing this again – lots of great novels coming up soon on the TBR.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Break Out Your Dustiest Earl Grey: A Review of Mexican Gothic

GREETINGS: Already read Mexican Gothic? Check out Oak + River Books’ first Nature in the Novel post, exploring ecocriticism within Mexican Gothic.

Noemí Taboada travels to a mansion in the misty woods to keep tabs on her questionably ill and confused cousin who was recently married to the son of an old-wealth family. After some frightening encounters, she soon learns that family secrets flow deeper than the foundation of the house. Will Noemí uncover the truth in time save her cousin, or will she even be able to save herself? 

Mexican Gothic is haunting.

Haunting in a way that might keep you awake all night but also because you WILL read all night long just to find out what happens next.

This historical fiction/horror novel takes place in 1950s Mexico – a specific and refreshing setting that sets Moreno-Garcia apart from the mainstream, and etching a niche that I would be happy to see additional well-researched writers enter.

In a way I hope my fellow book enthusiasts understand, I truly appreciated the amount of detail and the vocabulary used (I had to look up the definition of a couple words: antimacassar and susurrus).

Photo by Ian Panelo on Pexels.com

When I began reading Mexican Gothic, I had vibes of somewhere between Gossip Girl and Wuthering Heights: debutante and socialite Noemí is the GG and the dark and foreboding landscape is WH. After multiple Wuthering Heights references, I was glad we were all on the same page. Plus, Noemí Traboada’s intelligence and tenacity make her an admirable heroine.

Let me explain my post title: a dusty earl grey tea sounds just right for reading a book that centers around a foggy forest and where the author uses colors like grey almost as if they were characters. Plus, have you ever had a London Fog latte? It’s delicious. I’ve also had an amazing earthy and vanilla rooibos latte… but I digress.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The color descriptions and references to the natural world bring this novel to another level. It’s one thing to be told that something has a golden hue and it’s entirely another to show how that affects the whole scene. Moreno-Garcia is a master at this; her descriptions are compelling and mesmerizing.

Jessica Wick at NPR wrote, “The Gothics knew the only thing more full of horrors than the landscape is the human heart, that the human heart is a haunting.”

How beautiful is that statement.

And how accurate!

I had anticipated Mexican Gothic to be more of a psychological/medical thriller but what I got was a gripping tale whose icy tendrils I can feel clawing at me as I think about going to bed.

I would still love there to be a sequel. Silvia if you ever read this – I implore you to write a sequel!

A good book is like a companion: for a few days you go everywhere together, the conversation is never dull, then when the escapade is over you aren’t sure what to do with yourself.

Mexican Gothic is that companion.

Grab a cup of tea and let me know what you thought of Mexican Gothic! Happy reading, friends!

PS. In a couple days I’ll be doing a supplementary post on the theme of nature in Mexican Gothic. It’s an ecocritical approach that will dive into the content of the book. Subscribe to get notified when this new post goes live!

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

San Antonio Botanical Gardens Offers Family Fun All Year Long

This is Part 1 of a three-part Botanical Garden series, featuring gardens that are members of the American Horticulture Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program. A membership at one of these gardens includes eligibility for free or reduced admission at 300+ participating locations across North America. Always call ahead of your visit to verify what special admission privilege is offered by the Garden.

A few years ago, I stepped off a plane at the San Antonio airport, picked up my luggage and a rental car, and (with the services of an expert realtor) bought a house. Thanks to the smooth buying process, I had a lot of spare time, so one of my first tourist destinations was the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.

The San Antonio Botanical Gardens has been a part of the city landscape for the last 30 years. It continues to develop and stay engaged with the city: it offers adult and youth classes, volunteers opportunities in the produce garden, and cooking demonstrations in the teaching kitchen in partnership with CHEF SA.

The Japanese Garden “Kumamoto En” recently reopened. It was originally a gift from San Antonio’s sister city Kumamoto in 1989. “Tranquility” comes to mind when I think of this garden.

Another popular aspect of the San Antonio Botanical Gardens is the Family Adventure Garden. They have a hill for running and rolling, a big green space for play, a tunnel, little houses, and during the summer months No Name Creek has running water for kids to splash in. Occasionally, the Gardens hosts a dog-friendly day, too!

If beautiful flowers and a peaceful walk aren’t enough to tempt you, the seasonal decor and intriguing garden-wide art exhibits (such as Lego sculptures, giant bugs, and the upcoming origami exhibit).

We love the Gardens enough that I chose to support them with a Friend level membership (which includes one complimentary guest per visit – great for when my mom or a sibling is in town!) I like to go early in the morning or during the member-only hour, so I’ve rarely felt crowded there.

Let me know if you’ve visited and what your favorite part was!

In the meantime, check out some more fun photos of the San Antonio Botanical Gardens below.

This post is not paid or sponsored. Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of any of the Gardens or the American Horticulture Society.

Wellness

Summer, Sunshine, and Sunflowers

Summer is my favorite season. I love Wisconsin summer – Up North during the summer means family, beach time, and camping. And I love living in Texas, where even the sun seems bigger, and where it’s acceptable for everyone to be sweaty all summer long and not have to worry about being judged. No matter where you live, summer means grilling out, traveling, and early morning sunrises.

Summer 2020 (and the year in general) has been a roller coaster for many reasons and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In addition to social distancing, allergies, humidity, and high temps can force people inside during the summer.

For work and personal reasons, I am not traveling this summer. I would love nothing more than to pack up, drive north, and stay with my parents for a while.

A view of home

In a time when the healthy and safety of everyone is of the utmost importance, how can we still have a fun summer?

In no particular order, here’s a list of things you can do:

  1. Have kids or dogs or both? Play in the backyard
  2. Flying solo or chilling with your roomies? Set up a tent in your backyard and go on a staycation: grill out, order take in, and break out the fancy wine (no one’s judging if you play Slap the Bag, though)
  3. Take a walk in your neighborhood- this is a great opportunity to phone that friend you’ve been meaning to call
  4. Get up early and drink your morning coffee while you watch the sunrise
  5. Set a new bike riding goal – can you beat the 20 miles you did last week?
  6. Go to a recreation trail before peak hours – Google Maps shows how busy locations are by time of day, taking out all the guess work for you
  7. Give your green thumb some time to shine – those plants need some love, too!
  8. Any outside projects on your to-do list? Clean those gutters! Paint that trim!
  9. Sit on the patio with your mimosa and write your bucket list

There’s so much to do and there are ways to do them safely: bring a water bottle, wear your mask when needed, tell a friend where you are in case of emergency. Plus, going for a walk is free. The only thing you are spending is time on yourself.

I’m adding a few things to my Texas Bucket List. Eventually I’d like to take a trip to every state park but that’s a long-distance goal. In the meantime here are a few other Texas destinations I plan to visit:

Wildseed Farms: In addition to beautiful fields conveniently located in Fredericksburg, they also have a Biergarten and wine tasting room.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Dallas Arboretum and Botanic Garden: I have yet to explore this metropolitan area and both of these gardens are in the American Horticulture Society reciprocal admissions program – if you have a membership at a participating garden, you may be eligible for special admission privileges and discounts at other member gardens. More on the reciprocal admissions in my upcoming three-part botanical garden series!

Galveston: This is an historic city full of old homes, monuments, and perseverance. According to the site’s history page, it has 2,000+ buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Above all, Galveston is the birthplace of Juneteenth. To learn more about African American history and Galveston, click here.

In the featured image at the top of the page, you see an imperfect sunflower: pieces of a couple petals are missing, the leaves aren’t blemish free, and you can tell that the background isn’t especially exciting (that particular piece of land is under construction). How like this sunflower are we as humans?

Sunflowers have this amazing ability to grow along the edges, in unlikely spots. The imperfect sunflower above was the only flower growing along the edge of the lot I was parked at.

A burst of sunflowers from a recent walk

Sunflowers typically follow the sun all day long and rest at night. They keep their eye on the prize.

We, too, are blemished. We are not perfect. We make mistakes.

And we can also follow the sun. We can also keep our eye on the prize and not let outside things distract us.

I’m focusing this time on relaxation and reconnecting with my passions. We’re staying local and taking plenty of walks; my son has lots of energy so any way I can wear him out is a plus! The ultimate prize is next year’s vacation to visit family.

How are you staying safe and practicing wellness this summer season?