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?
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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.
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…
I also enlisted the expertise of a local cake artist who conveniently lives in my neighborhood. Check out this custom beauty:
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…?
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
To-go coffee order (regardless of where I’m ordering from): Iced Americano with light ice, a splash of cream, and sugar free vanilla
Cocktail: Mojito or if i’m feeling *wild* an amaretto or whiskey sour
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
TV Show: Friends
Sweet Treat: Anything with fudge or fudge pieces in it
Salty Snack: White cheddar popcorn
Outfit: Sweatpants and a sweatshirt – I’m all about being cozy
Place I’ve hiked: Big Sur, California – plus it’s hard to beat that drive along the coast
Place I’ve visited: Great Britain
Place I’ve lived: Monterey, California
Place to vacation: Near the ocean, I love the sound of waves on the shore and a gentle sea breeze on my skin
Exercise: Jogging! I was a #cardiobunny in my long-distance running years
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!
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)
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
Books I’ve read so far in 2020: The history books by James Bradley, I Miss You When I Blink, and Conjure Women
Book genre: Historical fiction
Thing to write: Lyrics and poetry – hopefully I’ll be brave enough to share some here soon!
Personality trait: I’m a good listener and enjoy connecting with people
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
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 😉
Thing about being a mom: Watching my son get bigger and learn new things + snuggles 🙂
Thanks for reading! Have a fantastic weekend, friends!
Me: Hey, do you remember when you asked me to watch your aloe plant while you were on vacation?
Friend: Yeah… he never really recovered after that.
I soooo wanted to be one of those people with a green thumb. I wanted vines hanging by the windows and giant fig leaf trees chilling in the corner. Instead, I got an orchid graveyard (cool new band name? I digress…)
If it makes you feel better, Friend, I have since successfully murdered my own aloe plant – and many others.
There’s a snake plant in my office that I regularly forget to water for at least a couple weeks at a time and It’s. Doing. Great.
You know what the issue is? It’s a common problem. I water them too much. I try too hard.
This is a good moment to provide a life metaphor. Do you ever try so hard and it doesn’t go right so you try even harder and then everything explodes? Because same. It took me so many years to understand that “trying harder” is not the same as “trying better“. Work smarter not harder, my friends.
We can take these sentimental lessons from nature: go with the flow, don’t overthink it, let it be.
The practical lesson is to keep a handy calendar marked with watering days but to be honest, I have accepted that my plant-raising love language is “set it and forget it”.
I have what is basically a garden home, although our HOA doesn’t cover private lawn care. Thanks to the plants in my front and back yards, we regularly see hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, cardinals, and even the occasional squirrel. It’s hours of entertainment for me, my son, and the cats (since I’m mentioning the cats, you should know they are not innocent in these plant deaths, either).
The Pride of Barbados, or Caesalpinia pulcherrima,1 is a hummingbird favorite. I don’t prune mine and it gets quite tall. I fondly refer to them as nature’s fireworks.
Purple hearts abound in this area. Did you know purple is the color of royalty? Some were pre-planted by my garage door and along a back wall of the house, and I even planted a few more to continue the border. According to the University of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, Tradescantia pallida plants “are drought tolerant and thrive on neglect, but also tolerate frequent watering.”2
A plant after my own heart!
Also in place were two pink-flowering crape myrtles, a young mountain laurel, some form of fan palm, and a Texas sage. Occasionally cow parsley and false day flowers will spring up, as well.
I planted this Nandina and it’s been going very well. That foliage! I’m excited for her to grow.
I love having plants at home for many reasons, and one of the big ones is that my son likes to help water them with his little yellow elephant watering can. It’s the cutest!
Thanks for joining me for a brief look at my journey with plants. Have a happy & healthy Tuesday!
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was blessed to be surrounded by trees, the sweet smell of hay, and some avid skiers. Thanks to my body’s sometimes-painful aversion to the cold, I didn’t quite take advantage of everything the outdoors had to offer, but the good news is there is much to be offered! Despite the extensive timber industry in its past, Wisconsin still has 17.1 million acres of forestlands1 and over 80 state park and recreation areas.2 Lots of wilderness to explore!
Other than my blatant refusal to go ice fishing or sit in a deer stand for longer than 30 minutes, I find the Wisconsin outdoors to be very serene. So many pines, so many lakes, so many cows.
Fun fact: “At the federal level, the U.S. Geological Survey does not have an official definition of lakes, but it does lump together ponds and lakes as water body features. The USGS counts 124,522 water body features in Minnesota and 82,099 in Wisconsin.”3You win this time, Minnesota.
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to explore the relationship between literature and nature, and there is a term for this: ecocriticism. So, am I an ecocritic? I am willing to say yes, because we can all be ecocritics when we explore with an ecocritical mindset. I am a novice just beginning to orient myself on this new path – and there are tools we can use to view our surroundings through the lens of ecocriticism.
What is ecocriticism? The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) notes the following definition: “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.”4 This includes more than the pastoral-themed essays I had once thought encompassed all environmental literature. In fact, rural settings are not just a getaway for the stressed urbanite. The Purdue OWL presents the following specific tropes: pastoral, wilderness (something to be conquered), and ecofeminism (“interconnection of the oppression of women and nature”).4
My next TBR theme is environment-related. Are you, like me, a more consistent reader when you read books thematically? (More posts about that to come!)
Hope Jahren, geobiologist and author of Lab Girl, released a new book this year called The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here and I’m excited to add it to my repertoire.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has published multiple books out about the importance of nature. His bio states “His books have been translated and published in 24 countries, and helped launch an international movement to connect children, families and communities to nature.”5 Community access to recreation programs is one of the topics I want to explore in my upcoming Master’s program, so Louv’s books will be making their own TBR pile on my bookshelf very soon.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading snippets of The Singing Wilderness to my son before bed. It’s very soothing and enjoyable. Tthe last one we read was “The Red Squirrel”. They’re so mischievous and playful! Who doesn’t enjoy squirrels? I don’t have a squirrel tattoo for no good reason.
When I lived in California for a year, I was surprised when we went to a restaurant, asked for a round of waters at our table, and the response was, “We actually aren’t allowed to do that, everyone has to ask for their own water.” Years later, I’m a little more conscious about my choices (I have some reusable straws that I need to use more), but I want it to be more than that. When we view through the ecocritical lens, we learn new ways to interact with the environment and those around us.
Now that I’m older and no longer live in the frozen tundra, I appreciate the Northwoods in a new light, and I recognize that the landscape has shaped the people who call it home. Yet to be surrounded by such natural beauty and mainly taught the importance of recycling when Earth Day rolled around, is a shame but not surprising. It was a regular part of the lifestyle in California, sowhy didn’t it seem to be in Wisconsin? To learn the answers to this and my many other questions, I’ll have to dig a little deeper and develop my practice as an ecocritic.
When I was briefly on the Tinder, it seemed like every guy was looking for a picture-perfect girl who would be up for spontaneous adventures to anywhere as if they had no other earthly obligations.
In the wise words of Ariana Grande, “Thank you, next.”
But there is something important here: Wanderlust.
I, too, have daydreamed about making over a camper van, minimizing my belongings down to a shoe box, and traveling across the country with my toddler, dog, and three cats, all the while convincing people that I am a free spirit and that I have made it.
Can you imagine three cats in a camper van? My cat Michael likes to chew on paper – paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, whatever he can get his cute little white sock paws on. With my luck, he’d get ahold of the TP in the camper van and THEN WHAT WOULD I DO? Don’t we already have enough flashbacks from the 2020 toilet paper shortage? *shudder*
If everyone didn’t have a case of wanderlust before COVID-19 hit, they certainly do now. I less want to wander than I want to participate in safe-paced vehicular travel on a 21-hour drive north to visit my parents. In my opinion, Wisconsin is best seen in the summer. Sure autumn has beautiful leaves but the threat of snow lurks just out of sight, leaving everyone waiting for the inevitable.
So I decided to do a little searching on the Internet – why is wanderlust so trendy? Is it the FOMO? The YOLO? Is that what the kids are still saying?
I came across the thesis “Has Instagram Created Wanderlust: How Experiential Sharing Is Influencing Happiness” by Crawford D. Warrick. (By the way, Crawford Warrick, if you ever see this, I love your name!) He references a study in which the results found “the prime factor in choosing a location is the visual appeal of that destination. Users are attracted to locations that appear attainable and exotic; scenic landscapes and well photographed places ranked highest in user preference.”1
Social media is all about looking at stuff, and what better place to look at stuff than Instagram? Warrick mentions that 88% of IG users are outside of the United States.1 We are inundated with photos of the most beautiful places across the GLOBE – how could we not be afraid to miss out?
And there’s another factor in play: “As remote work becomes more and more common, travel has also become a part of daily life for millennials who choose to take their work on the road. This can mean that travel is not just seen as a vacation, but as a lifestyle, as well.”2
A lifestyle. An income! Theoretically in-between potty training my toddler and fighting Michael for the TP I would be able to drive and make money at the same time.
It should go without saying that my stress threshold is not that high. I opt for more local travel. Besides investing in your local economy, a night or two at a local hotel can still feel like a mini getaway.
Texas is my current home and it boasts 80+ state parks3 and 14 national sites.4 We live in the San Antonio area and are happy that many state parks are a very reasonable drive away. San Antonio also has an extensive parks & rec system – we have been here for two years and still haven’t made it everywhere. Plus the trail system is 80+ miles and still developing.5
I say all this to say, wanderlust is what you make of it. It is a feeling and it is a lifestyle. It can be far or close, big or small, new or familiar. Personally, I like to wander in the pre-trodden wilderness usually because I’m either by myself or with my son.
I am telling you – at the time if I had seen one more “let’s go on an adventure” in a Tinder dude’s bio, I was going to swear off men altogether. Now, I don’t judge quite so harshly, and I got rid of the Tinder. So I get it. Not all of us think an epic trip is going to the two-story HEB (on my bucket list) or the combined TJ Maxx & HomeGoods store (I could live in there). I am satisfied with my simplicity.
So instead of coveting my social media neighbor’s beautiful photos of mountains reflecting off a perfect-blue lake while their boho-themed van can be glimpsed in the foreground, I am happy with what I have: a child with Texas-sized energy and boundless local trails to whet our wanderlust appetite.
About six years ago, a friend said those words to me. And I just laughed it off. “Haha, I know!”
It wasn’t funny, though.
When I was a kid, I loved reading and writing. In the fifth grade I shared a short story with my teacher after I was inspired by Franklin and the Green Knight (my brother was a toddler at the time and we watched a LOT of Franklin). In middle school we read and saw a stage production of “A Wrinkle in Time” during a sci-fi unit in English class. When we were assigned a few projects related to the sci-f books we read, I was consumed by it. I remember writing a story about sister witches who turn into a tornado at the end. I read “House of Stairs” by William Sleator and created a whole newsletter about the characters and plot. (Check out this blog post by Mari Ness for more info on “House of Stairs” *spoiler warning*) In senior year of high school, I dropped anatomy to take creative writing and wrote an epic poem about a Hawaiian king. I sincerely hope these things are all saved somewhere.
After reading the Magic Tree House book about Ellis Island, I would put my little plastic toy horses into their time machine stable and send them back in time. As an adult, I learned that not everyone had as much fun as I did.
Poetry, song lyrics, stories… I loved words. I was a huge nerd, but to me it just felt normal. My favorite computer game was the castle trivia game on the Magna Carta encyclopedia CD-rom. Do we even say CD-rom anymore?
In middle school and high school, I became very self-conscious about my intelligence. It hurt me when other kids would say, “Wow, you’re so smart.” It didn’t feel like praise; I knew it wasn’t yet couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I felt like an outcast. Other people were smart, so why didn’t it feel okay that I was, too? Being able to read and write is not the tell-all for being “smart” yet those were the things that made me smart and creative, and I let it slip away.
At some point in time, I lost myself. I did not surround myself with people who were similarly creative to me – or if they were, I never knew. It takes a lot of courage to share your thought bubble with others. It’s a raw, sometimes painful part of us.
I have been many things throughout the years, but the first thing I am, at my core, is a creator. And now, with this blog, I am reclaiming myself to share authentically.
Nature is beautifully and wonderfully imperfect; so too is creation. It is magic and mystery and awe inspiring. My creative mind is my happy place.
In the beginning, I will be producing quick content to get used to a flow and rhythm. I’m excited to see my talent develop – the beauty of creation is that you can keep trying and also be satisfied with a work in progress.
My name is Heather and I am the creator of Oak + River Books. Thank you for reading this post – I hope you leave with the knowledge that you can be brave and authentic in whatever creative platform you feel called to.
P.S. Here are a few books I’ve recently read that reminded me it’s okay to follow my own path:
Welcome to Oak + River Books! I am honored to be a part of your journey. Browse the Q&A below to learn more about what Oak + River Books means to me.
What is Oak + River Books? This blog is a creative space to explore literature with a special emphasis on nature and the outdoors. Through book reviews, interesting articles, photos (and maybe the occasional poem), I will reveal my ideas on the importance of literature and nature.
What do you want to accomplish with this blog? During this journey, I want to explore concepts relating to nature and its effects on individuals, families, and communities; everyone is welcome to enter and interact with an open mind. I hope that readers will take away ideas to ponder or research on their own. I encourage respectful and constructive dialogue.
Who do you want to connect with? Readers of Oak + River will be a combination of bibliophiles and nature-seekers. I am about to start a Master’s program in recreation management and anticipate some of the things I learn will reflect here. With that in mind, I think this community will have an appetite for knowledge and knowledge-sharing, but I also want it to be a space for individuals at any level of interest in these areas.
Why “Oak + River”? I wanted a title that made me feel like I was taking a breath of fresh air. The oak is sturdy and mighty; it is consistency and dedication. The river is fluid and ever-changing; water has the power to soothe. I recently learned of a grounding technique that involves putting your hands under alternating cold and warm water, with the intent of paying attention to the different sensations on your skin. Being near water and being in the woods always brings me a sense of peace; I want to evoke that sense of calm and intention with Oak + River Books.
Anything else? Firstly, I welcome constructive feedback as I begin the blogging process. Secondly, I want everyone to feel like they belong here. We are all connected. The more we learn about ourselves and each other, the more we are able to help one another. The world gets us down sometimes and I will do my best to keep this a place of positivity.