My Trip to Atlanta – Part One

September 11, 2016 at 5:27 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

IMG_1269.JPGMy trip to Atlanta was exhilarating. I navigated two airports, a train system, and bus routes – all things I have not done in a long, long time.  I learned about five square miles of a city I’d never been to by walking.  Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I was hopelessly lost.  Traveling with a flip phone in a smart phone society is a whole different ball game than traveling an unknown city in the days of payphones and paper maps. People saw me holding a real map and not utilizing GPS and there was much commentary, and confusion by others on how to read it as it doesn’t flip itself around and identify your location for you.  Even now, the word processor is telling me that the word payphone can not be pluralized.  (When did that become a thing?)  But I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to describe more than one.

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My Pet Rock. I patted it every day on my walk to the AmericasMart.

I was pretty excited about the MARTA rail system.  I’ve missed riding the rail since I moved from Dallas. Public transportation, once the stop points are identified and times committed to memory, are so much more relaxing than driving.  I like being able to read on daily commutes, I like the safety of not risking car crashes.  I like knowing that if I begin my journey at such-n-such time I am guaranteed to arrive at my destination at another specific time – down to the minute.  Atlanta excels at this. The bus route, however, is a whole other ballgame that got me pretty flustered.  The buses sort of arrive when they feel like it, the stops are relative, and the entire route based on the driver’s mood.

Everyone is very polite, though, even when they are offering you drugs.  I thought, as a Texan, that I understood southern hospitality.  When it comes to Good Mornings, sweet smiles, and a general attitude of helpfulness – we’ve got nothing on Georgia.  Any half puzzled look on your face will immediately result in someone stopping to help.  Stand at a stop too long and someone will inevitably ask you which bus you’re trying to catch and inform you, “Oh sometimes that driver likes to stop on that side of the street, be sure you check over there too or you might miss it.”  Smiles abound, even in the early morning pre-coffee grog.

I went to Atlanta to work the Wordfire Press booth at DragonCon. Convention people are exactly what I expected, after doing Comicpalooza and OwlCon in Houston, it’s pretty much the same routine, just bigger and takes up the whole downtown area instead of one convention center.  But outside the realm of the Con, everything was incredibly foreign.  I felt like I had stepped into how I imagine the 1950’s in a lot of ways, and once three blocks away from the convention hotels and gathering areas, I’ve never been reminded so often of how white I am. Politely, but with bafflement.

Houston is a melting pot. Our segregation occurs on the socioeconomic level, rather than a race level.  Latinos, Blacks, and Rednecks all live next to each other as long as they belong in the same tax bracket.  I didn’t see a lot of Atlanta, but I got the sense that things aren’t that way there.  So many times I was asked, “What’s a white girl doing on this street? You lost?” Or, the most bizarre, “Why you so comfortable talking to a black man? Is your husband black?”  At that question I retorted, “Should I be scared of you?”  “No, but these other niggers around here are cut-throat. You need to watch yourself.”  I felt like a child being reprimanded for not knowing the rules, especially when literally everyone I talked to was so very kind.  Yet, there I was a block the other side of Five Points, getting questioning glances from people who thought I was too pale to tread on their turf.  “You lost, baby? You don’t belong here.”  Or when I went to The Underground below the wrong CVS: “No, honey, you shouldn’t be down here, go up and get back to Peachtree as quick as you can, that’s where your people are,” before I even mentioned I was trying to meet anyone.

The whole experience was eye-opening and disheartening.  I enjoyed every conversation I had, even the fellow who offered me crack was very polite and concerned, keeping his distance when addressing me.  Is all of Atlanta that way, or just those neighborhoods?  Why was everyone so separate?

In my perfect world, I want to notice how much darker your skin is than mine. I want to acknowledge that freckles on you look entirely different than freckles on me. Deep, dark skin catches my eye, as a prisma color artist I am enthralled by skin tones that involve so many undertones of purple.  I want to listen to deep, milky voices bellow soul music, and that be ok. I don’t mind you calling me “white girl” but if I describe you as a black man or woman, I would like for you to not be offended.  We are different in so many beautiful ways.  To say we don’t see color is a disservice to the amazing people God created, like not noticing the difference between a sapphire and an emerald.  But we are also both human, we have troubles and trials, we have cultures we sometimes share and sometimes don’t.  I’ve never been so grateful to have grown up in Houston, where we all live side by side, work together, grow together, and learn together.  Houston has its own problems for sure, but I think we all have a cohesive love for our city and for Texas that keeps us pretty united.

I hope to visit Atlanta again.  I hope to branch out farther and see what the city as a whole is truly like, as opposed to the downtown areas I was restricted to for the duration of my stay. It has so many lovely parts and many beautiful people.

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Interview with Author Amy Woods

September 2, 2014 at 7:29 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , )

AmyRecently I read an reviewed His Texas Forever Family.  Shortly after reading the book, I had the opportunity to interview the author!

1. Your debut novel His Texas Forever Family is Harlequin’s September 2014 Special Edition® release. That’s incredible! What’s going through your head right now?

To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed. As a new writer, I’ve worked hard to put together the absolute best book I can at this point in my career, but it’s scary knowing that not all readers will love my story. Falling in love with a book is such a subjective thing, and it’s almost impossible to please everyone—something that every author knows when that book hits the (physical and virtual) shelves. Being new, I haven’t yet gone through the experience of reading reviews from people who don’t like what I’ve written, and I imagine it’s not a great feeling. All that any writer can do is write her very best book at any given time, and hope that each subsequent book will get better and better as her writing and storytelling skills improve—I just keep reminding myself that this is enough.

His Texas Forever Family2. How has your Harlequin experience been? Do you hope to write more for them, pursue other ventures, or both?

Harlequin has treated me very well and yes, I do hope to continue writing for them. I love my editor, Carly Silver, which makes things run really smooth. She and I get each other and she understands my writing and my goals for each story, which makes the process of readying each book for publication a pleasant experience. I do plan to venture into indie (self) -publishing at some point, but I want to write for Harlequin as long as they’ll have me.

3. This is a romance novel, do you plan to stay in the genre or get your toes wet in another area of the book community?

For now, I’m very happy writing romance. I also love to read cozy mysteries, and at some point, I’d love to spend more time learning the craft of writing one and try my hand at that genre. Lots of cozies have a romance subplot, as well, so at least I would have that part down.

4. What authors influenced your writing of this book?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading Nora Roberts’ old category romances—the ones she wrote long before she was the romance writing icon that she is now. When Roberts started writing category romance, she broke a lot of the genre’s conventions with her strong, intelligent, independent heroines that often had very interesting or unique careers. I’d love to follow in her footsteps with my heroines. And, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want a career like hers? Roberts worked hard to build a readership and to make a name for herself—actions I very much admire and hope to emulate in my own romantic fiction career.

5. What authors do you generally read? What is your favorite genre?

I read widely—both genre and literary fiction—anything from scifi to biography, and I love it all. I’m not sure I could choose a favorite. I think it’s important for writers to read both in and outside of their genres, to stay open to new ideas and new worlds.

6. In addition to your budding writing career, what else do you have up your sleeve?

Right now I’m just concentrating on keeping up with my contracted book deadlines, and promoting my debut release. In the near future, I’m planning to write and self-publish a new series, in addition to continuing to write for Harlequin.

fredri 27. How much of Peach Leaf was drawn out of real experiences? You seem to know your way around an elementary school and children…

Although the book’s setting, Peach Leaf, Texas is a fictional small town, it’s loosely based on one of my all-time real favorite places—Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is a town in West Texas with a population of a little over 10,000, and was founded in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. Both Fredericksburg and Peach Leaf are home to several amazing German restaurants boasting excellent beer and mouth-watering Reuben sandwiches, and Pioneer Museums that share artifacts and tons of information about the towns’ intriguing histories. As for the school setting—I was a teacher myself for a bit, though I taught high school rather than elementary.

8. What made you choose Texas as a setting?

I chose Texas mostly for the low risk of messing up.  I’ve lived here my whole life, so I figured for my debut novel, I’d better stick to what I know best. I plan to travel, do some research, and branch out a little in the future, but Texas will always be in my bones.

9. What brought you into the writing world? What got you writing?

I’ve always loved to read and I think, like many, for me writing was a natural response to having enjoyed so many books. I’ve always written here and there, but, despite a degree in English, I never considered making a career out of it until I found myself in a job I loathed and needed a creative outlet. Once I started writing frequently, I fell in love with the process, and eventually decided to submit some work.

Amy 210. What is one thing you would like your readers/fans to know about you?

That I’m pretty easygoing and open. I love hearing from readers and I’m always happy to answer questions about the writing or publishing process, and to help out when I have something to offer.

Readers are always welcome to contact me via my website.

For additional information on His Texas Forever Family, please visit the Books page on my website, or find me on Facebook as Amy Woods Books, or on Twitter as @amywoodsbooks.

Thanks so much for having me as a guest today!

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Interview with Leo King

August 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000461Periodically, Anakalian Whims interviews authors and artists for the public.  This blog having such a friendly relationship with Grey Gecko Press has allowed for more author interviews than I could have ever dreamed for, and here’s one more.  Meet Leo King, author of the Sins of the Father trilogy.

1. You have a 3.95 average rating on Goodreads for The Bourbon Street Ripper, sounds like people generally like it! (The first few pages creeped me out and I’m holding off until I can muster a non-scaredy cat reading mood out of myself to finish the book.) Tell us a little about your series Sins of the Father.

Sins of the Father is a genre-bending trilogy. While it’s thriller throughout, it starts as a a murder mystery and changes into what could almost be called urban fantasy. The voodoo culture undertones in the beginning become more prevalent as the three books go on.

2. What brought you to the murder/mystery/thriller genre? Is it merely what fit this story or is it your chosen genre?

My chosen genres are actually sci-fi, urban fantasy and epic fantasy. However, I’ve always wanted to write a trilogy that mutates genres in a seamless fashion. Most of this is because I want to show that it can be done. Put enough information in the story to inform the reader, and you can go from mystery to supernatural or fantasy to science fiction, etc. While it’s not recommended all the time (fans of one tend to favor it over the other), there are occasions when it can be very entertaining.

This is my only attempt at genre-bending. I will not do it again. I also will likely never write pure modern-day mystery. It’s not something I think I’d enjoy. I might try a hand at science-fiction mystery some time.P1020027

I love thrillers though, and will likely continue in the supernatural thriller and serial killer thriller genre in the future.

I think I kind of got away from your question. Sorry about that. The genres of Sins of the Father fit the story.

3. Who are your favorite books and authors? Ultimately whose writing career inspires you most?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is my #1 favorite for modern authors. Otherwise, anything by Asimov for science fiction, Weiss and Hickman for fantasy, and Stephen King for thriller/horror. My favorite old-school novel is Lord of the Rings.

P10200164. You’re published through Grey Gecko Press. How has that experience been for you?

I’ve enjoyed the freedom I get with GGP. They put the author’s desires first and foremost. I consider GGP a great starting place for any author.

5. Although you’re a Houston local, I see in your bio that you’re not a Houston native. How do you think your Louisiana roots and life experiences have affected your writing?

I grew up in New Orleans, the birth place of the modern romantic vampire (mostly thanks to Anne Rice). Because of that, I tend to blend romanticism with everything I write. I also try to give my locations and settings enough life for them to be considered a character themselves.

6. Your bio also says that you want your work to be controversial enough to make people think. What kind of thinking were you wanting to encourage with the Sins of the Father series? What kind of themes do you plan to pursue in future work?

If nothing else, I want to dispel stereotypes. Let me explain.

Every person, even the most deplorable, is still a person. Something made them that way. For example, some people in our society believe that anyone who is a terrorist is the epitome of evil and deserves no regard. But what drove that person to become that way? What hopelessness made them susceptible to their cause’s brain-washing? So many people do not ask those questions. They just brand and condemn. It disgusts me.

So I’ll create characters that the reader falls in love with, and then have them reveal something utterly horrible about themselves. Will my readers continue to love them? Will they condemn the actions instead of the person? Or will they suddenly hate the character and put the book down? What they do, and if they think before doing it, will say a lot about them.

I won’t apologize for anything I write, no matter how much it offends someone. Every human being has a story, and that story needs to be told.

7. You’re planning a Halloween release party for your next book. Ideally, what would that look like to you?

As this is my first launch party, I have no expectations. Something voodoo themed would be lovely.

8. Did you put any of your series to paper while listening to music? If so, what kind, which artists, what songs?

I write in silence.

9. Outside of your writing career what does your life look like? Do you have hobbies or interests that you’d like to share with your readership?

I am happily married to my wife of going on nine years. I work from home during the day and write at night. Sometimes I meet friends for coffee or beer, but never coffee and beer. That’s an important distinction!

My biggest out of office activity is my Writing Workshop. It’s a video workshop I started in 2012 and let stall out due to lack of equipment. I am thinking of setting up a Kickstarter campaign to get better equipment. It’s hard to teach writing techniques when you’re recording on an iPhone!

As for hobbies, I am an avid gamer. That’s both video games and role-playing games. I have a BS in Video Game Design that I’ve never used professionally, but I design game mods and develop indie games all the time. Yes, game development is a hobby for me. I love martial arts and am a sword collector.

10. If there were one thing you would want your fans/readers to know about you, what would it be?

Someone once expressed concern about my mental health because of some of the scenes in The Bourbon Street Ripper. I want to say that it’s just a book: I don’t endorse any of the horrible things my characters do!

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Leo King, second from the left in the black shirt, interacting with fans at one of his book signings.

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Dazzled by Market Square

July 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I was in San Antonio Saturday, my best friend dragged me to the old Farmer’s Market – dragged is too harsh, that makes it sound like I was kicking and screaming and I wasn’t.  I was happy to go and see something new, was excited about it really, except I looked past the archways from the street and my stomach sank… people.  Lots and lots of people.  Crowds didn’t bother me much when I was younger, they couldn’t, I went to a 5A highschool and if you were nervous in a crowd you’d drown in a sea of elbows.  (I realize now that maybe they did, I just often had a hand to cling to – my now husband – when walking through those crowds, not sure my bestie would be down with me grabbing her hands to hold in public… doesn’t stop me from wanting to.) Doesn’t change the fact that I see one ahead these days and I have to summon a purpose or desire for something in that crowd in order to enter it.

In this case, food, art, and music.  My trifecta that gets me through the festival experience.  I love those things.  And even though the Market was crowded – the worst of it at Mi Tierra – there was a little bit of space and I found myself able to breathe.  Especially once I got myself to the art booths.

Right outside Mi Tierra I stumbled across two separate booths. One for Joseph Hernandez Jr. (www.josephhernandezartist.com) and one for Robert Wilkens (robertwilkensco@sbcglobal.net).

It was the impressionistic style of Joseph Hernandez that caught my attention to the art in the first place. I was already tired from shopping, tired of the crowds, and on the verge of becoming very hungry. But then I saw this:

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This is Joseph Hernandez Jr. He paints vibrantly, is self-taught, and stands about as tall as me. I could have stood in his booth and looked at every single painting for hours. If I were wealthy, I would have bought one of everything. My house would become a gallery to his work. I loved all the color. His use of it reminded me of Bryan Collins work even if their styles are nothing alike.

P1020682Much of his work is perfect for the tourist or native San Antonio lovers.  He chooses places around town to capture on the canvas.  Far more valuable than any photograph you could take of the same location.

He has just as many paintings of a random assortment, random things that inspired him… trees and branches are a running theme for him.  He had a lot for musicians – a sax, a violin, muP1020683sic notes, etc.  I can’t imagine walking into his booth and not seeing something you want to take home with you.  The hard part is deciding which something.

His paintings are affordable for the art collector.  Good size canvases that I’ve seen sell in the thousands by less talented painters were running between $400 – $500.  You could buy a very small  canvas for $25 and walk away with an original piece. His prints were what would hit your pocket, averaging at half the price of the canvas.  Seeing that I opted to save for an original Hernandez, rather than buying a print.  I took a business card, but came back later to take this picture with him:

P1020680Only a few booths away, closer to the Mi Tierra entrance, was Robert Wilkens – or Roberto as his wife kept calling him, and I can’t get her voice and pronunciation of his name out of my head.  She’s gorgeous and so passionate about his work.

P1020684I asked to take a picture of his work and later found out that most people just take the pictures – they don’t generally ask first.  I’m used to museums and conventions, rather than festivals, and I always ask.  Otherwise you might find yourself being barked at.

Robert and his wife were very gracious and let me take as many pictures as I wanted.  Robert is a chatterer, and I enjoyed talking to him while I watched him paint.  He teased me about my tattoo – told me it said “Soy Sauce in Chinese, didn’t you know?”  I picked on him for assuming I didn’t know what my tattoo said, just because I was a white girl.  Some things are funnier in my head than they are out loud.  Either way, Robert and I had a nice long chat about artistry and professions.  We showed him a picture of my kiddo’s art work.  We talked about books and my career as a writer.

“When did you first know you wanted to write?” he asked me.

“The moment I realized that ink came out of a pen and formed words on a page,” I answered.

P1020675He’s been a painter for decades, but he took the long road it sounds.  He had a lot of people tell him he couldn’t make a living at it.  It’s clear that he can, his work is incredible.  We talked about how we  encourage that artistic spirit in our children.  My daughter – the child of a writer – is quite the little painter.  His daughter – the child of a painter – just might be the next great American novelist.

He was a muralist for a long time, you can see the remnants of that life in some of his work.  I love it, and I want him to come do some walls in Houston that need sprucing.

He’s good enough for the first lady, he should be good enough for everyone:

Artist – Muralist, Robert Wilkens has been in the arts for twenty-five years and has worked commercially for fourteen years. He is well established in all media of the arts. Robert’s talent and dedication to his work has taken him to Mexico and all over the United States of America, even to the White House in the service of the First Lady, Laura Bush. There is no other artist of Roberts caliber when it comes to working with clients. His work ethics are honest and the beauty of his brush strokes while painting murals are eloquent and always precise.

(From Robert Wilkens & Company Blog)

I may not enjoy crowds, but I love discovering.  I love traveling and the search for new experiences and people.  I love seeing something I’ve never encountered before and picking it apart in my brain, learning to describe it.  New sights and smells and sounds may overwhelm me, but I welcome it as a learning experience.  I am so glad we went to Market Square that day.  I am glad we met Joseph Hernandez Jr and Robert Wilkens.  I am glad we waited for seats at Mi Tierra, even after we were told it would be an hour and half before we could be seated (it was actually only 35 minutes).  I’m ecstatic that I got to eat cheese enchiladas and suck down a Mojito before devouring more art with my eyes.  (I’m mildly amused that I got carded for my Mojito.)

When I went back out to take more pictures of Robert’s work and buy a print of his with my bestie, I was pleasantly buzzed (light weight, cheap date, whatever, I’ll take the name calling)… and found this:

P1020687I couldn’t stop looking at it and I wanted it for my wall.  He didn’t have any prints available for it, but said he would ship to Houston if only I let him know.

I want the original.  It’s magnificent.  The detail in the water and his pant leg is stellar.  I wanted to be swept away with him, from the dirty street and into that clear, blue water, up to the moon.  It helps that I find suitcases and umbrellas terribly romantic.

It helps that I find travel romantic.  It helps that adventure fascinates me, even if it makes me a little nervous, I still want to experience it all.  I want to absorb art through my eyes and bathe in it.  I want to taste new foods and close my eyes and live the flavor.  I want to meet new people and really discover who they are before I leave their presence, even if it takes a little bit of work to stay focused on what they are telling me.  I want to be dazzled.

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Miraflores

July 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm (Education, Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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We saw it from the road when we were on our way to a bookstore.  It was on the right (off Hildebrand, on our way to Broadway, I think) and I would have missed it behind the construction cones along the road and the gritty chain link National Rent-a-Fence.  But the gates loomed, demanding to be seen.  The statues looking like mysterious cemetery pieces, but alas, there were no tombstones.

We passed it several times and weren’t actually able to go investigate until our last day there.

P1020606First we stopped at an old Spanish mission (turned greeting center, perhaps?) with a San Antonio Zoo sign perched near the steps.  I suppose we were on the backside of the zoo, or maybe it wasn’t even open, but we found ourselves in a beautiful park.

There were families, and ducks, and families of ducks.  But ultimately that ‘cemetery’ was calling our names and we had to go see it.  We drove back to the main street and lamented the fence.  We entered the parking lot to elsewhere and lamented the fence.  Then, we saw that the chain link gate was ajar.  Left for someone to go in and out for the day? We determined that it must be open by day and locked up at night to keep out the riffraff.  So, cameras in hand, we entered Miraflores, not knowing its name, and explored.

P1020644We found the Doctor’s name on several of the tiled benches.  To my uninformed eye there was no way for me to know they were designed by Atlee B Ayres, famous San Antonio architect.  I just knew they were beautiful and that they were made in honor of or for a Doctor, as the letters were mostly chipped away.  Later, we would see the name Urrutia on the gates.  There, in the mosaics of those grand gates, his name remained in tact and I took yet another photograph.  I skipped jotting down the information in my journal for the sake of spending that precious time getting more photographs.  Even though I thought it was ok to be there, something about the whole experience felt a bit like we had discovered a magic-hour of sorts and I didn’t want to waste a moment.

P1020616Though, I could spend hours there writing.  What I wanted to do more than anything was stay there all day and document every fragmented tile.  I longed for a library to access and investigate each piece of art and how it came to be gathered in this statuary field.  The gate said the “institute” was founded by Doctor Urrutia in 1921.  What institute?  Who was Doctor Urrutia?  What was the plan for this acreage?

P1020634Dr. Urrutia arrived in the States from Mexico in 1915 – as an exile.  He was born in the town “of floating gardens” just south of Mexico City and was a full-blooded Aztec Indian.  He went to medical school, graduated top of his class, and by the age of 22 was the President’s personal physician.  In 1910 Presidente Diaz was replaced by Madero, who was then killed and replaced by Huerta.  In all this killing and backstabbing, Huerta had got himself stabbed in the eye, and it was Urrutia who operated on him.  Then, according to Walt Lockley, Urrutia functioned a bit like a puppet master for the gangster and helped him run the country.

What happened next is a biography worth reading in itself:

But after dark, Urrutia was also accused of a medical assassination – a federal senator from Chiapas who publicly spoke against Huerta, Belisario Dominguez, was arrested as an enemy of the government, in the Jardin Hotel, on October 7, 1913, then taken to a cemetery, where dark persistent rumor has it that Dr. Urrutia cut out his tongue.

Without anesthetic.

Huerta threw eighty congressmen into prison at one point. Urrutia himself issued an ill-advised ultimatum to the US government, wanting official recognition, and Woodrow Wilson responded with battleships to Veracruz. In the late summer of 1914, as this government fell apart, a lot of the Huertistas and the well-to-do and ex-governors and henchmen drained out through Veracruz. Dr. Urrutia was arrested there by General Frederick Funston and was allowed to exile himself to the US: by ship from Veracruz to New Orleans, train from New Orleans to San Antonio, and two rail cars of treasure smuggled across the border later, to finance his new American life and humanitarian career.

– Walt Lockley

Urrutia died in 1975 at the age of 103, in his sleep, at his grand 15 acre estate in San Antonio.  But before that would happen, he would be the first doctor to separate Siamese twins in Texas and he would build something marvelous: Miraflores.  And I got to traipse around its remains.

P1020629Other artists contributed to this historic monument. According to Capturing Nature, Dionicio Rodriguez is responsible for the ‘rocks’ on the gates, but I’m not sure which aspect ‘rocks’ refers to.

In 2004, the area was added to The National Register of Historic Places, primarily for Rodriguez’s contributions.  It is thought that Miraflores contains his earliest work in the states as well as the “most intact and concentrated groupings” of his work.  One of those pieces is actually an extremely unique foot bridge in Breckenridge Park that caught our eyes several times.

The blog Urban Spotlight San Antonio describes a plan, in a post dated 2009, that would make the park open to the public. We saw the bridge from Breckenridge Park the post describes, but the public pedestrian walkway was blocked off and locked.  I am still unsure if the entrance I used was meant for the public or not.  Either way, I am glad I used it and got a chance to see so many beautiful works of art up close.  (There’s an extensive history included in that post regarding who owned the property during which decades and how they used it.  It’s quite interesting.)

According to SA Cultural Tours:

Much of the statuary originally designed for the park has been lost or damaged over the past several decades.  Remaining features include the tiled entrance gates along Hildebrand, designed by Mexican artist Marcelo Izaguirre, as well as the 1946 statue of Dr. Urrutia that originally stood in the center of a large pool.  […]  The park originally featured a small tower building housing Dr. Urrutia’s library, but it has been demolished.  The small remaining cottage, Quinta Maria, was built in 1923 as a guest house.  Statuary moved to the park in the 1960s following the demolition of Dr. Urrutia’s nearby home include the Winged Victory with crouching lions, and the replica of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess.

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I think my favorite… the place where I could sit for hours and reflect and write… would be near Cuautemoc.  He is the last ruler of the Aztecs, extremely energetic, and makes me feel mighty and safe.

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Luis L. Sanchez designed him in 1921, and it’s one of the most impressive statues I have seen in person, just for the sheer power it seems to radiate, like Achilles.

I love that Urrutia chose to include him in his garden.  Regardless of the sinister rumors that still surround Urrutia and his political dealings – including this statue in his place of exile says a lot about his passions and his identity.  He respected his heritage, his elders, and the past.  He had a taste for art, I think, I cannot bring myself to believe that he did this for the mere sake of showing off his money.  He had a library that has not survived, and clearly had a thirst for knowledge and legacy.

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After many business deals and exchanging of hands, The University of Incarnate Word now stands where Urrutia wanted a hospital.  The San Antonio Express reported in 1929 that Urrutia’s “grand ambition is to found a hospital here which will perpetuate his work … a hospital composed of pleasant, homelike bungalows surrounded by flowered lawns, clustered around a central House of Administration. For this purpose, he has bought an extensive piece of property on Broadway and Hildebrand.”  It sounds to me as though he sought some gentle peace after his years in Mexican politics.

However, Urrutia’s “institution” remained a private garden for hosting his family and parties, for morning excursions to swim laps in the pools, and to feed his peacocks while wearing his infamous cape.  I’m a little sorry the property never became exactly like he dreamed, but am glad he put forth the effort to get the gardens going.

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Cheever Books

July 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

This weekend I had three book signings in San Antonio. Each signing was at a Half Price Books location.

When I wasn’t haunting Half Price Books stores selling and signing my own books, however, I found myself being a tourist and stumbled into quiet places like Cheever Books.

P1020562This is the back parking lot, you actually walk around to the front to enter.  It still looks appropriately quaint and historic from any direction.  And once inside, you are greeted with this:

P1020568The online reviews of this store run fifty-fifty.  It seems most people either love it or hate it.  I’m here to give my honest assessment.  I love it, but they aren’t perfect.

So here’s the scoop on Cheever Books…

You might want to spend hours here.  Don’t come for a quick peek.  Things aren’t organized well, but the experience is magical.  If you have the time to go on a treasure hunt you’re bound to find Gabriel Garcia Marquez in three different places within the M’s as opposed to one place in the G’s.

The poetry wall is extensive – and full of short story anthologies.  There’s a lot along this wall you won’t find anywhere else though.

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If I had had enough money, I would have bought this book.  It isn’t common.  It was in good condition.  It looks exciting.

However, I settled on something more affordable.

I found these hiding underneath a stack of Horatio Hornblower books that I already own.  I couldn’t get the whole set, they were roughly $10 a piece, but I did get the one on the far left and I hope to find the others again one day.

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Upon any visit you are bound to find three things: a magical gem over priced, a magical gem appropriately priced, and a great book that is neither magical nor appropriately priced.  Relish the ambiance and the appropriately priced gem, don’t allow your rose colored lenses to be clouded by the rest.  In a book hunter’s world, it is still a marvelous visit.

There’s a review about the owner being “creepy,” but I met two out of the what I believe to be three employees for the company, and both were pleasant.  I enjoyed my time in Cheever Books and would readily visit again with cash in hand to spend.

It’s not as clean and easy a shopping experience as what you will have at Good Books in the Woods (where you will find similar treasures at more affordable prices), but it is most excellent.  That is not to say it’s dirty either.  By “not as clean” I mean that you will find books piled in your path, much of the inventory is peppered along the floors.  There are a few dust bunnies, but not nearly what you would expect among such a haphazard collection of books.

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So, San Antonio residents who adore Cheever Books – when you visit Houston and you need your  book fix, your store is Good Books in the Woods.  Houstonians who love Good Books, when in San Antonio, the stores on Broadway are for you.  (The Broadway HPB gives our Kirby location a run for its money in the awesome department.)

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Sun-Burned Days

June 13, 2014 at 6:03 pm (Education, In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1020224We went to the beach yesterday.  It was amazing.  We played in the sun, splashed in the waves, built sand castles with moats and walls and invading armies.  We applied sunblock every 30 minutes to our fair-fair skin – spf 50.  And in between those moments sprayed another kind of sunblock over our whole body to ensure that I hadn’t missed any spots.

Nonetheless, today we are burnt.  Really burnt.  Ok, so kiddo is moderately burnt and my legs look like lobster legs.

These are the days when being a reader and quasi hermit come in handy… we are sitting in the cool of the house watching book-based movies (The Rise of the Guardians) and patting our body parts down with home remedies.

So far, it has been a steady application of vinegar water (to take the heat out), egg whites (to minimize the blistering), aloe vera (because everyone knows to use aloe!), and at some point today I plan to try out a black tea poultice but that will require me to go purchase some Earl Gray.  Frankly, neither one of us wants to leave the house.

Prior to all this excitement (or miserable post-beach adventurism) however, I was seriously looking into the idea of moving closer to the shoreline.  (I’m still thinking I want to add this to my bucket list.)  If only for a 6 month lease someday.

1900 flood statueGalveston in particular is full of a rich history that I was briefly introduced to in school, mostly surrounding the epic flood of 1900 and the statue memorializing that event.  I remember studying the great September 8th flood in both fourth grade and seventh grade.  I even wrote a fictional diary of a girl caught in the flood as part of a required creative writing exercise.  With 145 mile an hour winds, near total destruction, families lost and killed, I sort of believed it wasn’t a viable living option.  Despite it being a great place to visit for the day, when Ike hit, I was still surprised to learn that people actually live on the island year round.  I grew up believing it was a Houstonian’s day trip destination and nothing more.

Galveston statueOne in particular that amazed me this weekend was the statue regarding the Texas Revolution.  It’s huge, and gorgeous, and well worth a child’s research paper.  Despite all the intense Texas History a child is submitted to as a ward of the Texas public education system, I had completely been unaware (or merely forgot) that Galveston was the Republic of Texas’ capital city.

I definitely want to incorporate more beach trips into our lives – despite our fair skin and my current severe sun burn.  But if I were to ever live there for a few months or so with our kiddo, I have so many cool lessons plans already half built around what would become our daily schedule.  Just the architecture alone is worth a good week’s worth of study.

The whole day was a gentle reminder to be a tourist in your own city from time to time.  It can be highly educational.

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Until then, maybe we’ll check out some Books about Galveston Island.

 

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Stuffed Grape Leaves and Dewberry Pie

May 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homeschooling adventures have turned into some serious life skills lessons, which in turn have become foraging.

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As previously mentioned, we use foragingtexas.com as a main source of information, but we do a lot of external research on our own as well.

Mustang Grapes – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
When: summer
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.

When homeschooling, this is a good time to teach your kiddo about plant classifications.  While picking the leaves (we had a mixture of Mustang grape leaves and Muscadine grape leaves, but I don’t recommend stuffing the Muscadines, they end up a little stringy).

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Vitales

Family – Vitaceae

Genus – Vitis

Species – V. mustangensis

Our lessons then continue into the kitchen where we follow recipes and learn about fractions and conversions.  You’d be amazed at how much a three year old will pick up on if you just show them.  We halved this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/my-own-famous-stuffed-grape-leaves/ as well as added lemon balm from our home garden to the rice mixture.

P1020054Our dewberry & grape leaf haul.

Dewberries – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Rubus species
Abundance: plentiful
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
When: Spring
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns

Again, our goal is to memorize the classifications and understand how they work:

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Rosales

Family – Rosaceae

Genus – Rubus

Species – R. arborginum

Well, that and to make pies.

We used this pie recipe, except exchanged the blackberries for dewberries, and used a bit more sugar.

It was a hearty dinner and dessert.

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Texas Tour Interview with S. Smith

May 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

1. You came to Texas for the first time for an Earth Day celebration book signing tour. Let’s recap, what stores and schools did you visit?

P1010693Bookstores:
Good Books in the Woods, Spring TX

Half Price Books in Houston at these locations:
Clear Lake
Humble
Montrose

Half Price Books in San Antonio at these locations:
Broadway
North Central
Huebner
Bandera

Half Price Books Austin area:
Round Rock
South Lamar
Southpark Meadows
North Lamar

Half Price Books in Dallas area:
Lewisville
Mesquite
Flagship (hpb.com/001)

Schools:
Claughton Middle School in Houston
Austin Jewish Academy in Austin

2. Did you meet any memorable customers you’d like to send a shout out to?

P1010713Oh my gosh—so many! The young woman from Spain studying in the futures program, sorry I can’t remember the name of the program and don’t know if I got hers. What a long, great conversation. There was Rob who was interested in knowing more about publishing. Marie Senter, “Viva la Fiesta!” in San Antonio who blessed me with my own pair of cowboy boot earrings. Lots of excited and, alternately, very shy kids. I met kindred spirits in the food movement who were very encouraging about the theme of my books. Answering these questions is helping me remember all the good times. 🙂

3. Where did you visit when you weren’t at bookstores and schools?
Unfortunately, my husband and I did not get to do too much touristy stuff, but we got in a little. Of course, first, I got to meet my number one fan in Texas and her family, and visit her woods—you! We also got to visit Old Spring. In San Antonio we ran into a spring festival called Fiesta that we hadn’t a clue was happening! We also were staying in an old part of town with historic homes, many included on the “walking tour.” We met the owner of one of those homes (shout out to Victoria!), who gave us an inside tour of the home. I also got to have dinner with an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in 30 years! And of course we did the Riverwalk and had dinner there the first night. Unfortunately, in Austin and Dallas it was just busy, busy, busy. On the way home we got in a quick visit to Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon. We were sort of on a deadline to get back.

4. Do you have a favorite city or region, now that you’ve been here?san-antonio-visitor-bureau
I think we both enjoyed San Antonio the most. But it might have been because we were staying at a very good location. Close to downtown and in a cool, older neighborhood.

5. Did you learn anything new on your tour?
Sure. I learned how cool Half Price Books bookstores are, for one. Besides books, records, etc., they have lots of very nice stationery products which I am a sucker for. I also learned what the sky looks like when it’s full of dust. I got to see a lot of new terrain. We drove through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and a touch of Utah. Some of those were for the first time. And the Hoover dam is huge.

6. Did you try any new foods?
No, I don’t think so. Unless you count McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse Burger. Although there were a different kind of beans being served with the Mexican meals than we usually have here. Charro beans?

8. Your trip ran into the Easter weekend. How did celebrating Easter on the road differ than how you celebrate it at home?

DSC00844Normally at home we would go to church in the morning and in the afternoon my family would get together, have a traditional meal where I would bring my homemade egg noodles, my sister-in-law would bring her fried rice, and five or six layer jello, my sister would bring her green or pink creamy salads, mom a pie or two, and whoever is hosting filling in with the rest (ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetable, more pies…). Then the kids would do an Easter egg hunt until nobody wanted to hunt anymore and everyone wanted to hide the eggs. Sometimes we use plastic eggs, but I like to use the real boiled and colored ones. It would be a lot like the scene in Heirloom where it is Easter. This year we drove from Houston to San Antonio on Easter. We managed to get to a church service late and then we were offered some food that they had eaten in the morning before the service. Since we were on the road we ate some. So I had two tamales and an orange for Easter noon dinner this year. But I guess the Riverwalk dinner at night was also on Easter. It just didn’t seem like Easter, but periodically someone would wish us a happy Easter.

9. What would you tell non-Texans to expect from a visit to Texas?

Texas_FlagIt’s hot, there are a lot of big roads around the major cities, lots of Texas flags flying, Houston people drive too fast, but folks are friendly.

10. In the third installment of the series, the story takes readers to Florida. Do you see a Florida trip in your future?

Well, I have been to Florida, just not out and about much. A reader in Florida recently invited me down, so you never know….:)

 

Even if you missed the tour, don’t miss out on the books:

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Bouquet of Color

March 7, 2014 at 11:40 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Revisiting…

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Title:  I Love Dirt!

(52 Activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature)

Today, we went for a much needed walk in the woods.  When the weather is nice, we’re out there five days a week.  When the weather is too hot to be nice, we’re out there four days a week.  When the weather is obnoxiously freezing cold, wet, and completely unnatural to a born and bred Texan, we hide indoors and rock back and forth holding our hot coffee and teas.  Well, not quite, but close.  We actually sit by the window and watch the birds eat bits of things we’ve left in the yard, name the squirrels that live in the trees out back, and read stories by the fire burning in the fireplace.

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Today, the sun was out for a bit.  It wasn’t quite so cold.  We needed the woods and we needed it bad.  There was cheering involved.

So, we loaded up our trustee going out bag and went for a trek.  Tucked inside was our copy of I Love Dirt and as soon as we hit the trails we read from chapter two: Bouquet of Color.

Bouquet of Color is an exercise in finding flowers and identifying how many colors we can see.  It’s a purely natural I Spy game.

P1010201   We discovered more flowers we would call purple than I would have supposed.  Lots of purple field pansies, baby blue eyes (that look more purple than blue), and even some butterfly peas.  We saw a lot of pointed phlox, but that is categorically considered a ‘red’ wildflower… so maybe we’re a little colorblind because they looked pinkish purple to us.

Of course, there was a lot of yellow in the form of dandelions, but not as many as I would have guessed.   We found a lot of dewberry patches sporting their telling white blooms, and took note of where they were so we could come forage berries come summer.  Yet, tt seemed Kiddo was still shouting “I see purple!” more than any other phrase.

P1010203We were pretty excited about the blossoms on this tree.  See what they look like up close.  Anyone know what it is?

Click this photo to find out…

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Sometimes on the trail we get distracted from whatever task is at hand and just enjoy ourselves.  Here she said, “I want to put the sun in my mouth!” I couldn’t resist snapping that picture.

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