Life Lately | Mid-May 2022


Hello friends! Let’s make this a rambling post, shall we?

I feel like summer is over. And by that, I mean, June and July is practically planned out and I can already see August and the start of school. Now, I usually keep a pretty good calendar in my head because I have a visual calendar and dates and such usually stick out well for me. But I have so much going on in May-July that I’ve had to write everything down! Between end-of-school activities, camping or outdoor events, visiting relatives (here or there), trips being taken, appointments, and so forth, I’m trying to find empty weekends for the summer. There are a few but not many. And honestly it makes me a little sad knowing that a leisurely summer isn’t on the agenda. Am I going to enjoy a lot of what is going to be happening? Yes! But also, I just see it all zooming by so quickly. It makes me miss the slowness of spring and summer of 2020, without all of the panic of the unknowns of the early pandemic. Slow. I want slow, and front porch popsicles, and wandering the yard looking for wildlife.

And so I had that one week where I managed to schedule some posts ahead of time like I would have in my regular blogging days and now that has flashed away, gone the moment it started. I think about a post and writing here, maybe even work myself up to it all day but then it comes time to sit down and write or edit photos and I just don’t wanna. So, I don’t. It all feels so hectic that I even hid a few social media apps off my home screen. And that has been so nice to not have to feel the burden of that and to just live through life and not even bring my phone to take photos. I have, of course, taken photos. I took a boatload last weekend when we went camping at Mission Tejas State Park. And yet…will those posts see the light of day here? I never blogged last year’s trip there. I’m trying to go with the flow…

Summer is in full-swing. We’ve hit high 90s already this year and the humidity is on level Sticky Swamp. In the garden I have never mulched several beds and quite frankly not even sure I will get to any of that until fall at this point. I’m behind on weeding but have plans to start slowly making my way through some of the beds and paths. I’ve been babying my native plant bed in the edible garden. Tucking in seedlings that are big enough to transplant and looking for new plants to add in and other seeds to buy. Seeds I bought from Woodthrush Natives back in February or March were stratified and then sown a few weeks ago and most have germinated. I have other seeds I’ve ordered and some I’ve gotten in trade and I have this romantic notion of all of the native plants I’m going to be growing in the next year or two and I can’t wait to see it all come together after everything gets established. Let me tell you what I really want. I want a deer cull in our neighborhood. We have too many herds and too many deer lovers who feed them and they need to go. It isn’t going to happen, this deer cull, but I do want it. I’m frequently jealous of people who garden without deer. I never understood it in my suburban south Florida rentals when I read about people dealing with deer, but now I do. And the more I hear about how bad deer are damaging plant populations in the east/NE because there are too many deer—well, bring back the top predators! Or at least, let’s get a few more hunters out there to control the deer a smidge more. But, I digress—or I guess, I rant, because I said this was going to be rambling, right? To be fair, the deer have been a bit better (do I even dare to try to say that??) since we got new neighbors a few months ago. The neighbors are more active (OMG, they mow all the time), the deer aren’t hanging around as much, but they do still come through. I ran six off just last night. And baby deer season is starting…so they will be on the “awww, cute” level for a bit.

I have watched a lot of tv this spring and am looking forward/glad several things I watch are coming to an end. I’m trying to get back to less tv watching as is what I used to do before we had Forest, but again, I hit that end of day lull that my brain is fried and the only thing I can focus on is a tv show, and well, you see where this goes. This is Us has been a permanent tear jerker this season and that Miguel episode was !!! Ozark went out with a bang. I never thought I’d enjoy that show but my interest was piqued last year and soon it was a binge. Same with Queen of the South, with a similar cartel theme. Almost as, no it is, as violent as Ozark. But equally as good. It’s based on a book and I am trying to track down a library copy to read at some point. Russian Doll—wow, what a trip that second season was! Possibly more trippy than the first? I know I’m forgetting a lot—oh, the Emma remake is on Amazon Prime and I didn’t think I would like it because I’m not a fan of Anya Taylor-Joy but she does make a fantastic Emma.

Reading has been going well this year, which is probably one point for stepping back and getting off my phone, writing less here, etc. Having at least one paper book, a kindle book, and an audio book going has helped with keeping my reading numbers up. There’s always something to read!

Oh, on my native plant kick, I have been diving into some Texas naturalists as well. Mostly folks who did a lot of work in the 60s and 70s but others, too. I have always thought and still think we are terrible in Texas at preserving our natural history but I have come to realize there are quite a bit of folks who did a lot of work to get what we currently have protected and not a lot of people know about them. I’ll hopefully write more on that at some point in the future. Just need to get through a few books on them, first!

And that is a rough summary of what is going on right now!

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I’ll leave you with this gorgeous section of trail at Mission Tejas, that when merged with the heat and humidity reminded me of some areas of the Mid-Atlantic region of the Appalachian Trail! Oh, how it made me wish I was on a thru-hike, walking through that section last weekend.

Egg Bombed by a Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly


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A few weeks ago I had a momma pipevine swallowtail egg bomb our Aristolochia fimbriata plants. We have several different mounds of the plants as the original location has spread via seed to other locations in the garden, and this isn’t a problem because we get one or two generations of caterpillars coming through and mowing the plants down the last few years. This year momma (or mommas more likely) gave us an estimated 60-70 caterpillars. I didn’t bother counting but we were overrun with them and even had smaller instars while the larger, later instars were gorging themselves on pipevine. I know those early instars did not survive because they ran out of food and didn’t make it to the Aristolochia watsonii in the cactus/dry bed. The results are at least 20 of those caterpillars (I really should count them) have turned into chrysalides that are now hanging on various places around the outside of our house and I even found one attached to a watering hose the other day! I managed to capture one pupating, which you can see in the later videos. I have watched monarchs pupating but have never seen another species transform so it was a delight to have walked out at the right time to capture this one. The videos are sped up, it was a 10-15 minute process and had already started when I found it. They seem to stay hanging longer in preparation than the monarchs do, some of them up to two or three days, before they pupate. I was worried about another one near our front door and it finally had transformed by the time I had come home from work the other day but it had been sitting there for several days.

By early next week I should start having adults emerge!

White-striped Longtail Butterfly (Chioides albofasciatus)


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Over the weekend I came across a new-to-me butterfly in the garden while we were working on the edible garden fencing. It flitted from blackberry flower to blackberry flower and my first reaction was “oh, the long-tailed skippers are here already?” Then I did a double take and realized that wasn’t a long-tailed skipper and it was something different. I didn’t have my phone so I tried to burn the image into my memory so I could look it up in my field guide when I went inside. Flipping through the field guide while I was eating lunch I came across the white-striped longtail in Kaufmann’s Butterflies of North America who called it a scarce butterfly and mapped it to mostly south Texas with a potential to stray from Austin to Houston. Then I looked it up on iNaturalist and laughed because Kaufmann must be much out of date, there were a plethora of sightings from Austin to Houston, not super heavy as would be for more common species, but enough to say that the range had definitely expanded since that book was written. And that’s definitely what the species was out there in the garden.

I took my camera back out with me and sure enough it was still there but it didn’t rest long between flowers and I only managed to snap a few decent shots before I gave up and moved back to working on the garden. Like the long-tailed skipper, the white-striped longtail larval host plants include legumes so I can only hope I will potentially have some lovely caterpillars on our bean vines sometime this spring. And hope that I will get to see the butterfly in the garden again this year!

Around the Garden | Late April 2022


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Despite the delay in spring, things are slowly waking up and moving along in the garden. I still haven’t mulched all of the flower beds nor have I caught up on clearing the paths of weeds, but I’m doing what I can. Frankly, I look back at the energy I had even with a newborn and a toddler and can’t believe I managed to stay mostly (ok, not really) on top of what I did. These days I do what I can and say boo to the rest. At some point the paths will be weeded and I’ll get some more mulch down but until then…

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This gulf coast toad was very glad to have a bit of water sprinkled over them last week as I watered. It’s been a dry spring and rumors abound about a 2011-like drought for this summer and fall. Thankfully we were blessed with a lot of rain on Monday that will tamper that down a bit. But when will the next rain be? And living in Houston do we even want to wish for rain?? Because we all know what wishing for rain means.

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Our stand of Texas ragwort looks stunning this year and I enjoy seeing it when we drive in and out every day. Some are starting to go to seed so they won’t be lasting that much longer, through May, and then we will mow them down. I do wish I could turn this into some kind of perpetual meadow with other species filling in when others go to seed.

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Chickasaw plums!

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It doesn’t look like much but I’m working hard on getting the native plant bed going. Eventually I’ll move the Penstemon laxiflorus you see towards the back and intersperse it better throughout the bed but when I planted them last fall I was assuming I’d only do half a bed of native plants. Now I’m not, though I am doing zinnias in the front portion this year and am currently working to intersperse other native plants I’ve grown from seed into the front as well to establish roots and hopefully bloom next year. I’ll still do zinnias in the future but probably in the perimeter beds one we get those built.

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Borage is lovely as always.

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The penstemon…love it so much! It is mostly starting to go to seed now. If you would like some, leave a message and we can converse and I can get your address to send some when they are ready. I will have *plenty*.

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Baptisias are rebounding—and I’m just waiting for the perimeter beds to finish because I think they would look good on the side of one of those. But, maybe in the yard. I just don’t know if the deer will eat them or not (probably).

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And a few of my Viburnum dentatum seedlings I upgraded to larger pots. I need to do the others I have in smaller 4″ pots but haven’t gotten to those yet.

There’s so much more going on in the garden but this is what I managed to get last Thursday evening. The seasons keep ticking on by…where did April go?

Field Findings | April 2022


Last week I was able to escape into the field for a few hours to a local field site and in between counting trees, logging dbh, and estimating height, I scoped out some of the things going on in the area. This isn’t a place anyone would regularly trek, especially given a lot of the rubus and smilax thickets we had to navigate, but its fun to go into the urban/suburban natural spaces from time to time to see what’s going on.

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Fork-tailed Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcata, nymph

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Hoplitimyia mutabilis, a soldier fly!

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Emerald Flower Scarab, Trichiotinus lunulatus, getting reallllly cozy on a thistle flower!

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A lot of the herbaceous layer in this area was Florida Hedgenettle, Stachys floridana.

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I’ve always loved the texture of River Birch, Betula nigra

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Green Cliff Brake, Cheilanthes viridis – this fern is becoming/has become very problematic in the Houston area. I only recently became aware of it last year and since then I have started seeing and noticing it in a lot of natural area. It’s actually a cool looking fern from South Africa but it is clearly going to become the next problematic fern for this region. I found one plant and ripped it up, thinking I was at least doing something and then walked 10 feet and realized I was very wrong. If I hadn’t been working I would have tried to get more of them ripped up. If you see it and you are using iNaturalist, please log it. If it is a small clump, please rip it up and take it out and put it in the trash.

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Rubus fun! (ouch, ouch, ouch!)

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Lesser Centaury, Centaurium pulchellum – a non-native from Europe. There are several look-alikes that are native.

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Common Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina. It’s always fun to come across one of these!

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The stachys really made the scenery much more enjoyable. I was out at one of these sites last year but didn’t remember this blooming at that point in time.

Hopefully I can escape to the field again sometime soon!

Ruby Mize Azalea Garden


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A few weekends ago we drove to Nacogdoches to attending the SFA Spring Plant sale to pick up some native plants we’ve been wanting for a good while. We had gone once before, I think when I was pregnant with Forest, so considering that was 8 years ago, it has been a bit since we’ve attended. We had some time to kill between the sale and getting lunch in Lufkin before we headed into Angelina NF to do some botanizing, so we dropped by the Mize Azalea Gardens to walk around. Since everything was a bit delayed this year we really caught the azaleas as a good time. Usually they are already winding down by the time the plant sale would have been going on so it was a delight to get to enjoy them this year.

So, this is really just a colorful azalea appreciation post! The color combinations and light were hitting *just right*!

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Arisaema dracontium, green dragon

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I love camellias but they don’t love our yard. *sad face*

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The ‘Cascade Falls’ weeping bald cypresses are looking really good now, creating a tunnel to walk through.

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This hawk landed right as we were approaching the trail. It sat and let us take photos, terribly lighting, though. Chris suspected it had found some prey to stalk and it was too enticing to leave.

I think we’re due for a weekend in Nacogdoches sometime soon to explore the other gardens that the university has, plus to get out and see some other areas of Angelina NF that are nearby. If you ever find yourself in the area, definitely stop by the gardens, they are free to the public and there are several parking locations to easily access them!

Easter Empty Field Explorations


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We drove up to DFW for Easter this year. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done that, instead opting for camping during Easter. But a variety of reasons had us without a reservation for a campsite and we opted to spend some time up there this year. I snuck away on Saturday afternoon to go check out an empty field down the street from my parent’s house. Well, truthfully, I had steps to get in for my FitBit challenge so that was a major reason, but I had driven by earlier that morning on the way to the grocery store and decided it needed to be walked through for some iNaturalist botanizing. The field has been a field since I was a kid, tucked between a bank and houses. As I’ve seen the other empty fields turn into houses in the last decade, I figured this one was living on borrowed time. Surprisingly there were some lovely prairie remnants left and of course a few invaders, too, but otherwise it was a nice way to get some steps in and take in some pollen-filled fresh air.

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Dakota Mock Vervain, Glandularia bipinnatifida

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Sword-leaf Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium ensigerum — I think. I really loved the deep purple of this particular species and it grows different than some of the species down my direction.

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llinois Bundleflower, Desmanthus illinoensis

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Tenpetal Anemone, Anemone berlandieri
While our anemones have mostly started disappearing after going to seed, I managed to catch a few still in bloom in this field.

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Zizotes Milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides – I knew there was milkweed in this field because I’ve seen it blooming during the summertime but I always thought it was likely to have been antelope horns, A. asperula but I was wrong!

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Beaked Cornsalad, Valerianella radiata

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Drummond’s Onion, Allium drummondii
There were several lovely mounds of this allium, very gorgeous!

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They come in pink, too!

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A palette of wildflowers!

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Can’t go wrong with some pink ladies (buttercups as we called them growing up), Oenothera speciosa

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Slender Vetch, Vicia ludoviciana

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Texas Vervain, Verbena halei

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Harmostes reflexulus, a little scentless plant blug.

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Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata

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And the trio of goobers post-egg hunt on Saturday evening. Zoe is heading to high school next year and Grayson is going to middle school, while Forest will be in second grade! Time flies!

The Nature of Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area


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The allure of the area around Apalachicola is that there are so many public land recreation opportunities that you really can’t go wrong with just about anywhere you decide to go. Our first full day of Spring Break we opted to start out our explorations at the Apalachicola River WEA because it had both car and trail access, plus a boardwalk out into Apalachicola Bay at the south end. A note, if you do decide to visit, know that some areas may be impassable with a typical car and many trucks during certain times of year. Water covers some of the more remote roads and it forced us to turn around and even Chris’ truck wouldn’t have managed those. Bring a swamp buggy! (I’m only half joking!)

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It was quite early in the season yet, even for Florida, but we were instantly greeted with White Wild Indigo, Baptisia alba not very far into our drive. This started the in-and-out of the truck rotation we continued throughout our entire drive through the WEA. See something interesting? Jump out and fawn over it and other plants, get back into the truck and drive 100 yards, wash, rinse, repeat.

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American Snowbell, Styrax americanus

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The first of many pipewort encounters! Flattened Pipewort, Eriocaulon compressum

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The one plant that was showing off all over the area was Flatwoods St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum microsepalum and other related hypericums!

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Dwarf Sundew, Drosera brevifolia

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Orange Milkwort, Polygala lutea

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Being back into the swamps of Florida was a balm for my soul. Texas swamps are lovely and they speak to me in a different way but there’s nothing like a Florida wetland.

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Fence Long-legged Cobweaver, Theridion murarium. Going slow enough to look for the tiny treasures is what takes a hike and makes it something so much better.

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I happened to find this empty polyphemus moth cocoon when I stopped to use a cabbage palm tree and empty my bladder. I looked down to swat at some mosquitoes and there it was! The benefits of peeing in the woods…finding moth cocoons?? haha!

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At the end of Sand Beach road there’s a parking area for the tower and a short trail that winds back into a cabbage palm forest adjacent to a wetland. Back when we started our drive two FWC employees had come by and mentioned that they were going to have some kind of festival out there soon so they were out checking on the trail and driving around to see what needed to be addressed for maintenance. We talked to them for a few minutes and they took our photo but I never did figure out if they posted it anywhere! But the two ended up walking along the trail later to do some minor cleanup of overhanging cabbage palm fronds and such. The trail is not that well visited, though it is well-marked. I don’t know if I would go down it in the summer with the mosquitoes but for spring it was worth it!

Forest really enjoyed this large palm frond that had been cut down.

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Red Chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia

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Bear’s Foot, Smallanthus uvedalia was growing in the shady edges near the parking area. I don’t come across this very often in Texas so it was a delight to see in such an easy to access area.

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Even if you don’t do the trail and you make a beeline down Sand Beach road for the tower area, it is worth it. The views along this area of the bay are sweeping and gorgeous. It was quite windy while we were there but on a calmer day this would have been a good place to set-up for some plein air landscape painting.

Meeting the Pitcher Plant Mining Moth (Exyra semicrocea)


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A few years ago I heard about pitcher plant mining moths on a podcast, probably the In Defense of Plants podcast but I can’t figure out which episode, and I’ve wanted to see one ever since. We’ve been out to the pitcher plants at Watson Preserve and the Pitcher Plant Bog in the Big Thicket several times but I’ve forgotten to look at them. Chris recently learned about them too and was interested in trying to find them while we were in Florida but there weren’t really many new pitchers growing yet out in the bogs so we didn’t see any moths. Last week, however, he was out in the field in the east Texas and came across a small bog and managed to find a moth in a pitcher plant. He texted the photo to me and of course I was very jealous about this sighting! Luckily we were heading out to Angelina National Forest to do some hiking and plant exploring over this last weekend after we attended the SFA Plant Sale in Nacogdoches, and we had the opportunity to see them–if we found a bog. We found a bog and we found the moths!

Forest had been having a rough morning, looking for plants in rare habitats was very boring to a 7.5 year old and there was a meltdown at our first stop Sunday morning. He perked up a bit when we got to the bog and Chris showed him how to find the moths, as you can see in the first video above. You have to be careful not to tear the tops of the pitcher plants but you can peer into the plants to see the moths fairly easily. I used my phone to take these photos and videos. Next on my list is to see the caterpillar of the moth! You can read more about the moth here, which has a much better write-up than I could possibly do here on my blog.

You can see a lovely caterpillar and some other photos from the Florida panhandle via Lilly Anderson-Messec below.

First Quarter Reading Wrap-Up 2022


A few years ago I regularly did Monthly Book Reports but that fell by the wayside. It’s hard to believe it has been so long but I think I’m going to bring them back in the form of quarterly updates with my favorites from the previous three months. For the first quarter of the year I’ve read 19 books. Some were great, others I muddled through, and I abandoned one or two. It has been good to see so many people talk about abandoning books that you can’t get into because I was a former “finisher” and it is something I still cling to and am working on. Sure, it is great to say you’ve finished a book but when you start reading and realize it wasn’t what you thought it would be, you don’t like the characters, or maybe it just move too slowly for your reading life at that point in time, abandon it! There are too many good books out there to be suffering through a book that you don’t love. My to-be-read (TBR) pile is ever growing and will only continue to grow, so unless it sticks, it goes into the abandoned pile.

Here are four books I loved this past quarter. Also, I’m making note on how I read them, audio, kindle, or paper.


The Seed Keeper by Diana Wilson – Audio
Taking place in Minnesota, we see Rosalie Iron Wing, an indigenous child make her way from growing up within an indigenous community only to be thrust into the foster system when her father dies. She loses a lot of her community and family members and even loses touch with some of her friends. Eventually she marries a white man who has a farm and Rosalie eventually gives birth to a son. She becomes interested in gardening and in writing and starts writing for the local paper. It weaves in Big Ag and the clash between a white world and an indigenous world and circles back around towards the end of the story. Really a lovely read, a bit quiet, and delves back into some of Rosalie’s family members before they were moved to reservations.


The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget – Paper
This is a juvenile fiction also based in Minnesota that I randomly picked up while at the library getting books for Forest one day. It focuses on 11-year old Fern and her impoverished family who struggle to make ends meet but supplement that with foraging and hunting on some land around where they live. It interweaves the stories from her friends, one from an immigrant family and another who is in foster care, and how they come to save the land from a fracking venture. I really appreciated the diversity and inclusion of so many relevant topics. Excellent for any 9-13 year old but also any adult who likes to read outside of a genre box!


Saints of Old Florida by Melissa Farrell – Paper
I have wanted to read this book for years, since I found out about it when it was published. I hesitated to buy it and now it has become very hard to find. Luckily, I found it at the beach house we stayed at on St. George Island a few weeks ago. Saints of Old Florida is a beautiful coffee table book that showcases all of the “Saints” along Florida’s Forgotten Coast, from Port St. Joe to St. Marks. It encompasses narratives from local fisherman, folks who came to visit on vacation decades ago and stayed, locals who grew up along the wilds of the region, and inserts beautiful photography and recipes into it all. A gorgeous book!


Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, #1) by Evie Dunmore- Audio
An absolute fluff romance taking place not in the typical Regency period we see so many romance novels doing right now, but a mid-Victorian era England when the early suffragette movement was trying to get off the ground. There’s a middle class bluestocking woman attending Oxford and an aloof Duke and well, it’s a floofy romance and a perfect book to escape into! Thanks for my friend Michelle for recommending it!

Now, what is everyone else reading? What should I add to my ever growing TBR pile?

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