Book Reviews, books, Special Guests

Ricochet Day & Q+A with Noel Silvia

Everything we do, even the smallest of things, matters.”

With Ricochet Day, author Noel Silvia delivers another sweeping tale of the interconnectedness of humankind.

The stories we tell, the memories we collect, and the encounters we share with others reach farther than we can imagine.

The further you delve into Ricochet Day, the more the characters become intertwined. In this regard, it is similar to Silvia’s first novel Where Light Enters: A Novel of Hope.

Fans of Where Light Enters can look forward to another story of characters searching for optimism among less-than-ideal circumstances, and ultimately maintaining hope through it all.

How often do we think about what is coincidence and what is fate? Does it make a difference in how you treat yourself and those around you? Ricochet Day allows us to explore this through the lens of its various characters throughout a 24-hour period on a fateful San Francisco day.

Thanks in part to the flow and variety of characters, I found Ricochet Day to be a relatively quick read. I like to compare novels by the same author – what is similar, is there a new theme? (Stay tuned for my next review about two of Ruth Ware’s novels where I discuss exactly this.)

Read on for a Q+A with Noel Silvia to learn more about his writing process and new novel, Ricochet Day.

Author Links
Goodreads
Amazon

“… I’m saying that it’s all connected. Everything builds from what came before it. Everyone inspires those around them.”

Q+A

Q. As with your first novel Where Light Enters, your sophomore release has been a labor of love. What inspired you to write about this particular day?

A. After the first book, which deals with some pretty heavy themes, I wanted to write a more joyful book, and for me, San Francisco is a city that holds so many happy memories. It’s the biggest little city in the country, with so much history and culture, that it was hard for me to not fall in love with it when I moved there in the late ‘90s. 

Having grown up in California during the ‘80s, what happened on this day was one of those “Where were you when…” big events that stands out. It isn’t the event of the day that inspired me to pick this day so much as it is the people who lived there then and now. The Bay Area has seen so much tragedy throughout its history, but it is such a resilient place because of the people who make it their own. I love themes of contrast, such as light versus dark in the first book, and here, I wanted to really explore the choices people made on that day to choose hope in the face of adversity and disaster.

Q. The primary theme that everyone is connected by even the smallest actions is apparent throughout. Can you talk a little more about the secondary themes, such as truth in the chapter “Mokita”?

A. The second major theme is temptation and what we do when tempted. Do we choose the right thing or the easy thing? Do we choose the simple path or the path of honesty? This theme goes back to the old expression that there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. The truth is so subjective, as everyone’s “story” is true from their POV. We often only see things how we want to see them, rather than how they actually are.

“Mokita” gets its title from the word in Kivila (spoken in Papua New Guinea) that roughly translates to “the truth we all know, but don’t talk about” .The closest idiom we have in English would be “the elephant in the room”. [Learn more here.] As a chapter, I wanted to explore what happens when we dance around the things we feel, and how not being honest about those things can lead to disaster. It’s easy for us to brush the truth aside, or expect others to “clean up our messes”, but at the end of the day, we need to be honest with ourselves and each other, as we never know how much time we have on this planet. “The truth will set us free”, and I tried to show that message thematically with various characters throughout the novel.

Q. You utilized hour-by-hour and person-by-person chapters while still presenting quite the cohort of secondary characters. How did the process of developing these characters compare to the characters of Where Light Enters?

A. The process was the complete opposite to Where Light Enters. In that book, I started with the characters and grew the stories out from there. I knew where I wanted them to end up, but I let their personalities lead the way. With Ricochet Day, it was a challenge because I knew that I only had a limited amount of time (a chapter or two) with each character to nail their characterizations, motivations, and unique quirks.

I started by making a list of the different themes and messages I wanted to explore in individual chapters, and from there, I thought about what types of characters would inhabit these spaces and scenes. Many of the characters are amalgamations of real-life people that I’ve known, and actual events pulled from my life, so that made it easier to give them a voice and context.

The fun part came when I got to arrange them in order, figuring out which theme best led into the other in a way that would make sense narratively and was still fun and engaging to read. There were some struggles, but once it clicked, I knew it was right and had to trust my instinct.

Q. What have you learned about the writing, publishing, and marketing processes that you’d like to share with other writers?

A. On writing – Know how to take feedback when it’s constructive, and don’t be afraid to scrap what isn’t working. Chapters like “Mokita” and “Ode to Emily” went through numerous versions (not just drafts) before I was able to settle on something that made sense.

On publishing – No matter how many times you write and review the same chapter over and over again, you’ll always miss things (comma here, quotation mark there). It’s stressful but trust that if you tell a good story, the reader will understand because it’s an independent thing and you don’t have the resources of a big publishing house. Plus, you can always re-upload corrected versions and tell those who bought the earlier version of the books with the typos that they now own a limited first-print edition!

On marketing – I’m still trying to figure this out. Going through Amazon KDP, there are avenues to explore, so do what I haven’t done yet and take the time to figure these out.

Q. It’s evident that you really enjoyed writing the chapter about Gabriela and Sprinkles. Have you given any thoughts to writing a children’s story? 

A. Absolutely. I have several ideas for children’s books, and I foresee more adventures for Gabriela, Sprinkles, Horatio, and Gregory in the future. The Feathered Council [you’ll learn what that is when you read!] has plans for the children in their futures.

Q. What are you currently reading?

A. I am currently reading Parenting Your LGBTQ+ Teen by Allan Sadac, as it is a great resource for things I never thought about when writing about non-hetero-normative individuals. My next book, Your Pretty Self, deals with themes of beauty and how it affects women. As a CIS male, it is incombant upon me to learn as much as I can about the issues surrounding this topic so that I can be as accurate and responsible as I can. It’s no different than when I was writing about the Battle of Monte Cassino; I start with research and find the stories buried in the history and issues.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Thank you to Noel Silvia for contributing to today’s post.

Kid's Books, Special Guests

Teacher Appreciation Week feat. Special Guest Danielle Diamond Nepstad

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

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 some of your favorite educational resources?
I really love PBS, Learning for Justice, Newsela, Flocabulary, ReadWorks, BrainPop, and Khan Academy. For the past several years, I have followed the gigantic teaching community on Instagram, and I learn a lot through other educators around the country (and world!). Some of my favorite educators to follow are @toocoolformiddleschool, @thetownieteacher, @littlebookbigideas, @msemilyalt, @elementaryedventure, and @itsmoniquesworld. Many of these educators offer their resources for free or at a small price on the website Teachers Pay Teachers.

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.

You can follow Danielle’s journey on Instagram: @learningonthebiglake

Happy learning, friends!

All photos are the property of Danielle Diamond Nepstad and are used with her permission.

nature, Special Guests, Wellness

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

Bloom where you’re planted.

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

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

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

***

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

(Learn more about restorative agriculture and permaculture!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews, books, Poetry, Special Guests

Author Q+A with Alma Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews, Special Guests

Where Light Enters & Q+A with Author Noel Silvia

Where Light Enters is a powerful and moving debut by emerging author Noel Silvia. Read on for my review and a mini Q+A with the author where he shares his inspiration for the novel and his favorite authors!

After a lifeless body is discovered by the river, readers are led back in time to meet multiple characters and the struggles they face in childhood and as adults, culminating in the final events that bring us back to the discovery of the body.

Throughout the book, we are reminded of the hope and light inside of us that keeps us alive and that we can share with others.

This book is unique for multiple reasons. Those interested in linguistics will enjoy seeing the lesser-known but widely spoken Esperanto language interspersed in the dialogue – lending to the international feel of the book. (Learn more about Esperanto here.)

The Esperanto language is accompanied by the novel’s open-to-interpretation setting. The book has no specific setting, allowing the reader to picture the story taking place where they feel fits best. Where you picture the story taking place may be entirely different from where I picture it. There not being a specific setting does not mean the story lacks one; there is plenty of detail for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Most of the characters remain unnamed and are referred to by a nickname or their distinguishing features (“The Matron” or “the man in the purple suit”). I did not think this detracted from the story. The sections of the book each center around one character while maintaining the theme of interconnection, which helps readers avoid getting the characters confused with each other.

There is also an emphasis on color and music throughout, with the idea that music is magic. Lovers of the violin, rejoice!

Caution: The text deals with some very weighty topics – war, suicide, human trafficking, drug abuse, and addiction. I would not recommend this novel to young readers.

10% of the profits from this book will go to charities that work to combat human trafficking and work to help individuals suffering from trauma, two of the big themes in the story.

Lastly, readers will notice various Christian elements but I would not classify this as a Christian novel. It is what the subtitle claims: a novel of hope. We all have a choice to follow the light and to help others in what can be a cruel, unfair world. When we cannot find the light ourselves, it can still find us.

***

Q+A

Congratulations on completing and publishing your first novel! What inspired you to begin working on Where Light Enters?
Music has always inspired me. Even an instrumental piece can tell a visual story. A good song makes me want to explore that world. I keep a log of all of my story ideas, and enough threads started emerging where I saw how I could weave them together in a cohesive narrative tapestry. The COVID lockdown was when I finally decided, “it’s now or never”, and I had to do something to feel functional. That need to be productive inspired me to write. I may not have lost weight during this time, but I gained a book that I’m proud of.

What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you?
As da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Knowing when to stop tinkering with the text was primarily the most challenging thing for me. I felt like a parent sending their child off on the first day of school; I had to trust that it was ready, and would be fine on its own.

Was there anything that surprised you about the writing process?
I was surprised how short/long it took to write certain things. There were some chapters that I wrote the entire first draft in less than an hour, and then there were some singular sentences that I spent several hours on, trying to find the perfect words to use in the right arrangement.

Why did you decide to self-publish?
For this book, I wrote to write. My goal was to write a book that I was proud of and would be something that I would want to read. I wanted to try and find my voice as an author, and I did not want to have that altered by someone trying to sell books that were more marketable. My greatest fear would be waiting a year to get signed, only to have the publisher want me to add sparkling vampires and change the setting to a dystopian future. Not that there’s anything wrong with those stories, but they’re not the kind of stories I felt comfortable telling.

What can you share about your upcoming novel Ricochet Day?
I love the theme of interconnection and the ways people are brought together. It was something that I explored in Where Light Enters, but in Ricochet Day, I really want to push those ideas. It’s (hopefully) going to be a lot lighter tone, but still explore these concepts as we follow a group of seemingly non-connected characters over the course of one day. I’m having fun right now arranging the plot, as the narrative will be very “Rube Goldberg”-esque.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Do you have a favorite author?
I love books that make me have an emotional reaction. Authors like Christopher Moore or Tim Dorsey have a great comedic flow that always make me laugh. Then there are authors like Amy Tan or Khaled Hosseini who always make me cry, even in the triumphant moments. There’s nothing worse than art that doesn’t move you.

***

Many thanks to special guest Noel Silvia!

Purchase a paperback or e-book of Where Light Enters on Amazon.

To learn more about Noel Silvia’s insights and future projects, visit his author page on Goodreads.

Happy reading, friends, and “may the light find you.”

*I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate marketer therefore do not receive compensation for purchases made through links on this website.

Special Guests

Special Guest Q+A with Mecca Ilminen

Happy Sunday, friends! This is what I plan to be the first of many special guest Q+A sessions for Oak + River Books. Today’s is extra special because Mecca Ilminen – my sister, an eclectic spirit, and the family forager – is sharing her truths on growing up in the Midwest, edible plants, and creative license with your recipes, along with some of her own photos.

Staghorn Sumac

Q+A

Q: Happy birthday, Big Sis! Time sure flies – over 20 years ago our parents moved us to Wisconsin. Can you talk a little about how growing up in a rural environment helped shape who you are today?

A: I spent a couple of decades right next to kitchi-gami (Lake Superior). It has shaped my idea of a good time, from picking blueberries every year around my birthday in the Moquah Barrens, seeing live music performances at Mt Ashwabay, and biking around Madeline Island. I’ve participated in that blistering February tradition of snowshoeing across Chequamegon Bay and have done the October Whistlestop half marathon a couple of times. A mile from that beautiful inland sea is where I met the person who puts up with me every day.

When you and I lived with the grandparents, I believed for a long time that agates were fossilized dinosaur eggs, courtesy of our grandfather’s accent that made the word sound like “eggits.” He knew and never bothered to correct me.

Q: Now that you live in a more urban setting, what are some practices you have to reconnect with nature?

A: The Twin Cities are actually built around nature spaces. According to Meet Minneapolis, the farthest anyone has to go to access a park is six blocks. I am surrounded by trails and lakes. I’m particularly fond of the Minnehaha Creek.  We’ve been talking about buying a kayak. (Visit the Parks page on Meet Minneapolis to learn more).

Q: I consider you to be the family’s forager. When did you first get into foraging?

A: Growing up in northern Wisconsin, we would often go raspberry picking near the house. I remember a golden variety that Grandma was so excited to show us, and they were of course delicious. We also picked buckets of blackberries in the back field. In the Midwest, raspberries ripen in July and blackberries ripen in August. 

As for when it all began, I usually blame Dad. He got me started on clover flowers when we first moved north. Looking back, my interest in eating things I find outside is Mom’s fault. She was the one who introduced me to honeysuckle.

Q. What other kinds of things do you like to forage? Are there any things you find that aren’t commonly known to be edible?

Mulberries

A: Since moving to the big city, my foraging habits have shifted upward off the ground. More recently, I have been all about mulberries. This delicious sibling of the fig is prolific in southern Minnesota. I’ve gone out picking every few days for the last month, and if you see me, I usually have red fingers. I’m currently monitoring several areas with wild grapes and recently scored a food mill for making juice. I had a positive ID on some chokecherries but the birds got them before I did. Closer to the ground, I also found several patches of false solomon seal that should ripen in the next month. (Visit Edibile Wild Food for more info on false solomon’s seal and its inedible counterpart.)

When I still lived up north, I would go out for wild strawberries, wild leeks, milkweed, goosefoot, dandelions, daisies, curly dock, sheep sorrel, plantain, clover, fiddlehead ferns, and wood violet. I also had what felt like a private patch of wild plums off of the Tri-County Corridor. I made some fine tartlets with those plums. 

I get some strange looks in late Spring when I grab a clump of Siberian elm samaras and stuff them in my mouth. They look like small, round green wings, but are the fruiting part of the elm tree. 

Q: What are some recipes you’ve made with the things you’ve foraged?

A: I like to eat as I go, but last year mom did make me a lemon cake topped with fresh wild blueberries we had picked together.  For things I have served to other people, I have used wood violet in place of spinach in lasagna and sauces.  I really want to try my hand at making dolmas since grape leaves are so plentiful, and plan on making sumac-ade.

The last foraging update I sent to the family was that I had stumbled upon blackcap raspberries. I did gorge myself trailside, but some made it home and into a grilled cheese sandwich made with aged gouda and farmer’s market French bread.

I’m a fan of daylilies and roses.  I’ve been told I make very sexy salads.

Day Lilies

Q: It’s important to distinguish between edible and inedible plants and fungi. What books or other resources have you used as a guide?

A: So this is where I get out my copy of The Forager’s Harvest, Samuel Thayer’s first foraging guide book.  (I also have a copy of his second book Nature’s Garden and just ordered Incredible Wild Edibles: 36 Plants That Can Change Your Life.) Grapes are the most common plant I come across that has dangerous “look-similars.” Moonseed and Virginia Creeper are two easily mistaken plants Thayer references in his guide, and I have encountered both. 

Grapes

 

 GrapesMoonseedVirginia Creeper
LeavesGreen, simple, 3-5 lobed/
heart shaped with toothed margins
Green, simple, 3-5 lobed/
heart shaped with smooth margins
Red in late Summer/Fall,
palmately compound leaf with 5 leaflets
Fruit
Cluster
Elongated clusterElongated clusterUmbrel-like cluster
Seeds2-4 seedsSingle pitted “crescent moon” shaped seed1-3 seeds

Samuel Thayer and Melissa Price’s website: https://www.foragersharvest.com/#/ 

Link to Viriginia Creeper USDA page: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_paqu2.pdf 

Milkweed Pods
Curly Dock

Q: When I spend time in nature, I usually prefer to go solo so I can really connect with my surroundings. Do you feel the same way and/or are you part of a community of fellow foragers and hikers?

A: It’s more a function of my work schedule that so many hikes are solo, but I love having company.  When I was in Duluth I would often go out with coworkers to the local trails. 

Q: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with Oak + River Books readers?

A: It is perfectly acceptable to take an iced coffee with you on a nature walk. Do what keeps you active and makes you happy.  Also, you should always bring a container in your purse or bag; pockets are not an appropriate means of conveying soft fruit.

Evening Primrose

Quick Q’s

Flowers or succulents? Flowers

Beach or mountains? Mountains

Favorite season? Autumn

Prettiest places you’ve hiked? I’ve spent many days on the Duluth portions of the Superior Hiking Trail; Houghton Falls is a must when I go home to the Chequamegon Bay

Last place you went camping? The last place I slept in a tent was near Mammoth Caves in Kentucky; last place I went camping for the experience and companionship was right outside of Badlands National Park in South Dakota

What animal would you be any why? I swim slowly and on my back, so probably an otter

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thanks so much to you, Mecca, for sharing your insights and I hope you had a great birthday weekend! Stay tuned for more great content from Oak + River Books…

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, particularly edible versus inedible substances. Unless otherwise noted, photos on this post are owned by Mecca Ilminen and used with her permission and she is to be credited in any sharing of the materials contained on this post.

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