Five Pinterest Recipes I Loved in 2020

Like many other people, being in quarantine for most of 2020 meant I was able to spend much more time cooking, baking, and overall cultivating my culinary skills. I’m certainly not a chef by any means, and I’m still a picky eater, but these are the five recipes I enjoyed the most this past year that I’m looking forward to making again. I hope you enjoy these recipes just as much and find some inspiration!

One Skillet Sun Dried Tomato & Gnocchi | Eat Yourself Skinny

I actually have to give full credit to my mom for finding this recipe. From the beginning of 2020 to pretty much right up until I moved in May, my mom and I made this recipe constantly. For those of you who don’t know, Gnocchi is a delicious potato-derived pasta commonly used in Italian dishes. It has a chewy, doughy, soft texture, and the taste is neutral enough that you can mix it into a variety of dishes. As you can probably guess, I prepare this recipe without the chicken, but it’s just as delicious and filling that way. It’s a perfect comfort meal for a cold winter evening, and it can be made in less than thirty minutes. 

Easy Pesto Tortellini Pasta Salad | Baker by Nature

This is actually the most recent Pinterest recipe I made, and I love it for its simplicity, its bold yet simple flavors, and the minimal amount of time it takes to prepare this dish. Really, the hardest part of it is just boiling the tortellini, and that’s clearly not really labor intensive. I’ve been bringing this to work for lunch the past few days, and I have to say, I’m still not tired of it! It’s like the classy, more evolved older sister of a basic caprese salad. 

‘Chickpea of the Sea’ Tuna Salad Sandwich | The Simple Veganista

Back before I was a vegetarian, I used to love tuna and considered tuna fish sandwiches to be one of my favorite lunches. Luckily, chickpeas have come to the rescue in this recipe and allowed me to enjoy a very similar version of my childhood favorite! Nori sheets are optional to give the salad an especially fishy taste, but personally, I think it tastes just as fine without. Even Nathaniel, a tuna eater, liked it, which he himself admitted he wasn’t expecting to. 

This Thing

I admittedly don’t know what one would call this sandwich and I couldn’t find a name or a website for the original inventor, but regardless, it’s delicious. It’s filling. It’s greasy. It’s extra. And although it was fairly messy to make, it was worth every paper towel and dirty pan. Truly, I think a decadent egg sandwich is the vegetarian’s dream, and this particular one really knocked my expectations out of the park. Like I said, I can’t find an OG recipe, but here is a pictorial!

Copycat Starbucks Pumpkin Pound Cake | The Baking ChocolaTess

In the deepest depths of quarantine, like many other Americans, I found myself getting extremely invested in baking bread. Particularly since I work at Starbucks, I was very eager to see how this pumpkin bread would hold up to the test. As a novice baker, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious this came out! It was thick and delectable without being too heavy, and I think it had the perfect amount of pumpkin (although Nathaniel said he didn’t think it had enough.) All in all, an absolute classic recipe. 

I have to say, considering I don’t really have much of a background in cooking, I’m really happy with the different recipes and varieties of food I have tried in 2020 (even if it’s mostly pasta.) I think all of these dishes are delicious, but I especially recommend the sun dried tomato gnocchi pasta. Be sure to let us know if you try any of these recipes and what you think below!

Can You Truly SEPARATE from Yourself?

The debate of whether or not you can separate the art from the artist is one that may never end. Can you truly separate a piece from a whole? A servant from its master? An ideal of perfection without failure? Love from hate? Nothing from everything? 

Each individual creates their own reality based upon perspective. It is all mental. We all have our own set of rules, constructs, values, and beliefs – that is okay. It may be hard, but it is important to accept that. 

As individuals, we are different for the same reasons we are alike. There is a reason opposites attract a magnetic force, no matter how far away. We thrive off of one another to live. Everything we do is just a mere projection of ourselves. 

Once we have accepted ourselves, our purpose, the risk and uncertainty that comes along with us on our life journey, then we are truly able to open ourselves up to vulnerability. Upon reaching this moment is when we are finally able to create for ourselves. This is up for interpretation, but I believe this is when you are truly free.  

I am grateful for all of my experiences as an artist. Others showed me the ropes so I can control the reins for myself. I do it for myself in hopes that one day I may be able to inspire and teach others as was done for me. 

This number of how many does not matter, it has always been about quality, not quantity. History and oracles speak of what it’s like to let power fall into the wrong hands. We create history every day. 

Every time I create, I leave a piece of my soul within my craft. Whether it be on watercolor on Stratford, oil on canvas, ink or graphite on paper, or even the words you are reading digitally on this screen, I am leaving a remnant of my carbon copy. 

I think, therefore I am. This is my consciousness, it is important to be aware of yourself in relation to others.    

Likewise, my fellow creators, the masters, and my predecessors, I am an artist and my work is my way of expressing myself. 

There is something extremely dangerous yet attractive about the way an artist works. Artists wear their hearts on their sleeves. We love to give, but we also love to receive. Our wounds are open, you will see us bleed. 

We express vulnerability outwards. It’s hard at times, although it is vital in our process of personal growth and reflection, along with deepening our understanding and connections with our surroundings and others. 

The true beauty of life resides in the foundation that everything is up for interpretation. While we may be similar, as we are all created from stardust and matter, our individual experiences are what guide us and pull us together through our separation and differences aside. 

Can art truly be separate from an artist’s work? 

I know the answer, it’s a no from me. Alas, everything is subjective, relative, and up for interpretation, I’d love to hear your side of the story.

Rating all of the Starbucks Holiday Drinks

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Image source: Starbucks.com

I’ve worked at Starbucks for roughly half a year, and in that time, I have tried a LOT of coffee. I’ve tried everything from the summer 2020 Kiwi Star Fruit refresher (fairly gross, might I add,) to fall-themed pumpkin spice chai tea lattes (absolutely delicious.) And today, I am going to be sharing with you guys my thoughts on every single ∼holiday drink,∽ so buckle up and grab your lattes.

Peppermint Mocha

Of all the holiday drinks, I think peppermint mocha is probably my favorite. I’m just a huge fan of peppermint year-round, so being able to enjoy it in my morning coffee is such a treat. I will say, I find the regular brown mocha to be far too thick and gunky, so I always opt for a white chocolate peppermint mocha instead. You can also opt for less pumps of mocha to counteract the thickness, which I sometimes do as well. I highly recommend ordering this drink with whipped cream! 

Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

The toasted white chocolate mocha is a bit different than a regular white mocha, because it has a bit more of a toffee nut flavor to it. I personally enjoy this flavor as well, and again, it’s a lot less thick and chunky than regular mocha, which I prefer. As you may have guessed, toasted white mocha also pairs very well with peppermint and I highly recommend asking for either a pump of toffee nut or a pump of peppermint in this beverage, if you’re feeling ∼fancy.∼

Caramel Brulee Latte

I am admittedly not the biggest fan of caramel, so I’m not as into the caramel brulee as I am the other holiday flavors. There’s just something about this particular flavor in particular that I don’t gravitate towards; I can’t tell if it’s too sweet or too sour, and there’s just something about it that doesn’t sit right with me. I will say, however, that the caramel brulee topping is absolutely delicious. That may be its one redeeming quality to me. 

Chestnut Praline Latte

Chestnut Praline is definitely up there in my top 2, and honestly, I feel like it’s probably the most underrated flavor. I’ve never tasted anything like chestnut praline before, but it feels like the perfect toasty, spicy, warm, holiday flavor for a chilly winter day. Unlike caramel brulee and eggnog, I feel like chestnut is a flavor that actually pairs well with coffee and enhances the overall drink experience. If you’re looking to try something new at Starbucks, definitely try the chestnut praline!

Eggnog Latte

Listen, I just have to say- I am a huge fan of eggnog. It’s one of my favorite holiday flavors, and one that I look forward to enjoying at my dad’s house every christmas. But a hot eggnog latte? I’m sorry, but it is simply atrocious. For one thing, your barista will almost always be unhappy with you for ordering an eggnog latte because eggnog does not aerate very well. This means that the preparation of steaming the milk is going to be obnoxiously loud and screechy due to the thickness of the milk, and then, in the end, what are you left with? A latte that tastes like garbage. I’m sorry, but eggnog and coffee do NOT pair together and you may quote me on that! Go out and buy yourself a quart of cold eggnog instead and enjoy it that way. 

Those are more or less my final thoughts on the Starbucks holiday drinks, taking into consideration the quality of the coffee and the price point that customers pay for. I would definitely recommend opting for a peppermint mocha for something more sweet and traditional, and a chestnut praline latte if you feel like trying something new. I can even justify trying the caramel brulee for shits and gigs, but for the love of god, STAY AWAY FROM THE EGGNOG LATTES.

Have you guys tried any of these holiday drinks before? What were your thoughts? Let me know below!

PERSISTENCE of Memory

I believe memory exists not only to remind us of where we’ve been or where we’ve come from, but to guide us and help us heal. It interests me that the older I get, the less I can remember from my formative years, however, what I do becomes the most important. 

Memory comes back to me in photographic flashbacks: the good always remains but fades with time, the traumatic resurface slower, but intense and vivid all at once. I was born in 1998, old enough for my first “real” memory to be of 9/11, although I truly can’t say I knew what was happening. Then, a month later my younger brother was born. 

The next is disoriented screaming, flashing lights through my bedroom window, muffled sounds of gunshots down the block as I was upstairs in bed. The SWAT team was guarding off my street and knocking on our door. Nearly 20 years later, I can finally understand that this was due to a Vietnam Veteran who lived on the corner, and whose PTSD had triggered him to shoot.  

My earliest happy memories date around the same time frame. Sometime in 2000, probably about 2, almost 3 years old, holding a lilac ball playing catch outside with my father. I remember sitting at the small farm-animal-themed table in our old vile yellow kitchen with the forest green floor tiles as I colored in a coloring book. 

I remember painting purple stars on the walls with my father when I graduated out of my crib and into my new “big girl” room upstairs.  I remember coloring over the puke-yellow walls in Crayola crayons before my parents decided to tear our kitchen down for demolition. 

Vividly I can picture myself in elementary school art class, the tables new and unscratched, the crisp room smelling of fresh cobalt blue paint on the walls. We would gather around our teacher, Ms. Halpern, who would drop a pin and ensure we all heard it grace the floor before she spoke. I was always quiet, more interested in which artist we would learn about as opposed to the anxiety-provoking multiplication test that awaited in the class upon our return. 

I remember recreating Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in oil pastel, the soft waxy feel as it molded to my hands and created rainbows under my fingernails and the earthy aroma of red clay on my hands as we created pottery. I only cared about what day it was for the sole purpose of whether or not it was time for the weekly art class – it was my escape. I can’t remember most of what I retained from grade school other than forming a keen interest in the arts.

This seems to be a common theme: those who excel and form interests in the arts foster them at a young age. I started playing the violin and joined the chorus in the third grade, although colors and forms stated their permanence in my life. I developed a fixation on transferring images from my mind into a physical form, my notes covered in drawings and doodles. This was and still is my way of creating a sense of our world.  

Throughout middle and high school I continued to find shelter in the art rooms. I created during my time of struggle. I won’t speak much about my depressive manic and self-destructive states as an early teen, but visually creating has always been one of my only methods of accurately channeling and representing my emotions. 

It was around this time I began to spend my summers in Manhattan, taking pre-college courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Art galleries and museums were now at my disposal on a level much higher than my suburban home town on Long Island. These galleries and museums became a sanctuary for me.

Years later and I’ve devoted myself to structure my life around the arts. My passion for the visual arts has followed persistently throughout my entire academic experience, my lifestyle, and is now reflected in my professional career. 

I’ve been an artist for as long as my memory allows. What can I say? Creating comes naturally. It keeps me grounded, consistently allowing me to portray my emotions and relay my memories in a universal language for each to resonate and reconcile as their own.  

As a visual artist and writer, I seek to educate and inspire others. I have an intimate understanding of how hard it is to spread our stories to the world. While it may be pain-staking, it is vital to recognize the importance of passing down our stories. We are not drastically different from one another once we allow ourselves to open up.

Whether this is conducted through visual imagery or words, it is how we relate and learn about ourselves, our relationships, our friends, our partners and lovers, and the generations both preceding and succeeding our own. 

Businesses and empires may be bound to fail, but there is permanence in the arts and culture. As Dali would say, there always has been, and always will be, a “persistence of memory.”

This Sh*t Sucks… Or does it?

Have you ever wondered what defines good or bad art? 

Yeah… me too. As a painter and illustrator, this happens on a near-daily basis. To be honest, it’s a whirlwind. 

The foundations of my career as a visual artist was based upon realism. Pulling inspiration from other illustrators and painters who focused on hyper-realism, pondering how it was even possible to reproduce on such a level. I vividly picture 14-year-old me on my bedroom floor spending countless hours hauling over my works, meticulously honing in on every little detail while I attempted to create each piece to be as close to the reference photo as possible.

I can’t tell you where this fixation in society derived from – or maybe it was just my ADHD and anxiety telling me everything I had to do needed to be perfect, but at least I know I wasn’t alone. Nearly all of my other artist friends and I, at this time, were starting their artistic career in the phases of drawing eyes in the corner of notebooks and working on perfecting a portrait of the lead singer in our favorite alt band. But up until I started studying art in college and gained greater exposure to the art world, I swore by the rule that for my art to be considered “good” it needed to be grounded in hyper-realism. 

Of course, there’s a reason the basis of teaching visual arts is grounded in figure drawing, still lives, and copying master studies. Similar to any other craft, artists are expected to learn the roots of the trade before bridging out to develop our own style. You need to build the foundation of a house before you can decorate the exterior. (Unless you’re an outsider artist, but that’s a topic for a different time.)

A few of the most valuable words one of my painting professors ever shared with me was, “The photo is for reference, a photo is not a painting and your painting should not look exactly like it. Your goal is to be able to part with it – if you keep comparing your work to a photo you will never be satisfied.”  

All in all, your art, nor anyone else’s, does not need to look like you can reach out and grab it for it to be good. Some of my most successful, and most loved, creations are those based upon spontaneously throwing paint on canvas out of frustration and seeing what I could make from it. And if you know me, it was probably a mushroom or had something to do with hands or eyes. 

So, if you’ve made it this far and are still wondering then what defines good art? What makes bad art? I hate to break it to you, but the answer is nothing. Yep. That’s it – nothing at all. 

Well, on a technical level, yes there are standards an artist might want to meet. Proportions, perspectives, and light sources are vital aspects of any creation.  Although, if the work is meant to be conceptual then this truly does not matter.  

Art is relative, and it is entirely subjective. Therefore, art in itself can neither be good nor bad alone. For art to be considered “good” or “bad” it is wholly dependent upon the viewer, the creator, or the critic. While some love Pollock’s poured paintings, others believe he was just a drunk who got lucky. 

On a side note – this is exactly why as an artist, regardless of whatever your craft may be, you need to place value on and believe in yourself. There will always be a negative critic, and PSA people – there is nothing wrong with having a different taste! 

There are many things in life besides taste in art alone that we cannot change, but that does not mean your work is bad. To ignore the critic would be even worse. Sometimes they’re the ones who we need to listen to the most. An artist’s work cannot grow without the push for change. While a critic’s words might be sharp and sting, they are often what fuels us the most. 

Bake Bread With Me

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While in quarantine, I’ve been journaling a lot about the different hobbies I’d eventually like to pursue and make time for. One of those hobbies is baking bread, because it’s such an intricate and patience-requiring art, I feel like it would bring me a lot of joy to try it. And guess what- I was right! I absolutely love baking bread.

The bread recipe I used was probably the most basic artisan bread you can find- flour, water, salt, and instant yeast. I specifically bought a specific bread flour that is designed for baking loaves, pizza crusts, and biscuits with, so I’m really looking forward to cooking with that again in the future.

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The first step for me was to combine all of the ingredients and mix it together thoroughly. I used 3 and ¼ cups of bread flour, 2 teaspoons of instant yeast, 1 and ½ cups of cool water, and 2 teaspoons of coarse salt. Personally, I just used regular coarse sea salt, but I imagine you can use any salt that you wish. I also added a few good shakes of rosemary garlic seasoning (probably about 4-5 good shakes,) and mixed that into the batter as well. After I finished mixing it, I just covered it with some cling wrap and let it sit in the bowl for about two hours. As you can see, it looked pretty sticky and rough at first, but that was normal and to be expected. After I let it sit out and rise for a couple of hours, it got much fluffier and doughier. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doubled in size.

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After this step, I read that you can either immediately continue with the cutting and the baking, or you can refrigerate the dough and use it for up to three days. I’ve read from a few different sources that it’s better to let it sit in the refrigerator than to use the dough immediately (it has something to do with the air bubbles,) but it really doesn’t make too much of a difference. I didn’t refrigerate my dough, and as you’re soon to find out, my bread turned out just fine. 

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After the 2 hours were up, I cut the dough in half (which was so satisfying) and formed two individual loaves, about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide each. After that, I preheated my oven to 450 degrees and left the loaves to sit AGAIN for another 45 minutes or so. The dough did flatten out a bit during that time, but it was easy enough to just push them back in and narrow them out again. After that, I made 3 slits in each of the loaves, about half an inch thick, and then I baked the loaves for about 25 minutes. Don’t forget to flour your hands and the baking sheet for this step! I think I might have used a bit too much flour, but it didn’t change the flavor or the texture of the bread.

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You cannot imagine my pure joy when I checked on the bread 25 minutes later and I saw that it looked absolutely delightful! It looked perfectly cooked and browned on top, and the loaves had lost their heaviness and became light and fluffy. And they smelled absolutely amazing, too, which I owe to the rosemary garlic seasoning.

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When I cut into the bread, I was very happy with the color and the density. It wasn’t as airy as I had expected- it was a bit denser and there weren’t a lot of holes- but that’s probably because I didn’t leave the dough to cool for 12 hours in the fridge. Instead of using butter or olive oil, I put mascarpone on my bread as a topping, and oh my goodness- it was absolutely divine. Mascarpone is a very soft, creamy, Italian cheese spread with a subtle taste, and I think it balanced perfectly with this bread. Because I made two loaves, I saved one for myself and froze the other one immediately so I could give it to my boyfriend’s family. I definitely don’t need two loaves of bread, so I was happy to give some away!

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Overall, I think my first experience with baking bread was very successful! I can’t believe the bread came out decently; in fact, I’d go as far as to compare the flavor and the density to the white Cheesecake Factory bread. Speaking of Cheesecake Factory bread, I found a copycat recipe for the brown bread. Should that be my next baking endeavor? Let me know below! In fact, drop any other bread suggestions you have below! Right now on my horizons, I’d like to make sweet dinner rolls or pumpkin loaf next. Eventually I’d like to work my way up to sourdough bread, but not until I’m a bit more advanced.

Interview an Author: Wendelin Van Draanen

Often in life, there are books you discover in your childhood that stick with you forever. For me personally, that was the case with the Sammy Keyes mystery series, penned by award-winning author Wendelin Van Draanen. The series follows a junior high school girl, Sammy, and her journey through both finding herself and solving the mysteries of the world around her. It’s humorous, witty, creative, and filled with loads of fantastic characters.

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Pictured: Wendelin poses adorably with her books (Credit: newtimesslo.com)

Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty books for young adults and teens, but her two shining stars are, of course, Sammy Keyes, and the novel Flipped, which was transformed into a beautiful movie, directed by Rob Reiner. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and as I’m sure you can tell, her work has had a large impact on my young adult life. For that reason, I was so honored when Wendelin agreed to be interviewed by my publication. She had much to say about her spunky heroine, Sammy, but she also gave me loads of invaluable advice on how to navigate the world as a creative person and a writer.

Analog Magazine: What was your upbringing like, and how did reading and writing lend itself to you in your formative years?

Wendelin Van Draanen: My parents were Dutch immigrants, and we lived the immigrant lifestyle in which we were frugal. My parents were working towards their American Dream, and they were very much about, “You come to a new country and you become part of the fabric of that new country”, so they wanted to raise their kids as Americans. We were kind of insulated (not necessarily isolated,) but we were different from the neighbors in that [my parents] had an accent and they approached life in a very vigorous way and there was a lot of work to be done. We were always working on something, so there were no idle hands. When my siblings and I did get free from the chores, we would go out and just be wild in the neighborhood, to counterbalance the restrictive nature of home. We had lots of wild adventures that my parents would not have approved of. Books were a big part of growing up because we could go to the library, so every other week or so we would go get a haul of books, bring them home, and take them back. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kind of readers, because we had a bedtime and we stuck to it. Then I could escape with my flashlight and my book and meet up with my friends under the covers. 

AM: What were your favorite subjects in school and what did you excel at as a student? What were your challenges?

WVD: My favorite subject for all levels of school was math, because math was the only subject that totally made sense. If you understood the concept and the building blocks for math, it made sense and it was easy. My least favorite subject was language arts. Those English teachers, man- you just could not please them! No matter what you did, you were going to get back your essay and there were going to be little problems with it here and there and then you’d have to redo it. Ugh, it was so frustrating. As you can probably tell from my upbringing, we were encouraged to excel, so a B+ was a very frustrating grade to get. With math, if you knew what you were doing, you were good. I feel like people who don’t like math are missing one of the building blocks. When I was a teacher, the subject I taught was math. And people say, “How do you go from being a math teacher to writing mysteries?”, and that is kind of weird until you think about it. Because a math problem is just a puzzle, and I love puzzles. I think it’s my mind just trying to make sense of something and find a solution for it. So I’m very attracted to mysteries, because I want to put those pieces together in a way that makes sense.

AM: What different careers have you had along your journey to becoming a full-time writer?

WVD: Ramping up to become a full-time teacher, I did a lot of odds and ends. I drove a forklift…I did a lot of different things. But my career-job was becoming a math/computer programming teacher, and then it was while I was working as a teacher that I was influenced by the kids in my class and inspired to try writing a story. 

AM: What inspired you to create the character of Sammy Keyes and flesh out her story into such an extensive, vibrant, staple of young adult literature?

WVD: I think it was being a teacher and seeing that students were still reading Nancy Drew, and that my students had very little in common with Nancy Drew. I just thought it would be cool to take someone who represented the kids who I saw every day in the classroom, and put them into situations where they would stumble their way through right and wrong. I think when you’re an adult and you can see the behaviors of people and recognize the mistakes that you yourself have made… there’s not a big reception on a teen’s part from an adult, you know? Their peers are very important to them, and so I wanted -more important than the adults- to create a peer who would have these experiences and think about things, and about right and wrong, and the steps to take given dangerous or stressful or emotional situations. I wanted to have her make the mistakes a normal teen would make, but then have her draw conclusions that she would then apply to the next time she was faced with a similar situation. I think that those factors are what drove me to write about Sammy. Growing up is hard- it’s much harder than calculus!

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Wendelin was happy to learn I have carried my love of the series into adulthood!

AM: The first Sammy Keyes book was written in the late 90s, and the last book was finished 18 years later. However, in the Sammy Keyes universe, only 2-3 years passes. Was it difficult for you to develop with modern technology while trying to keep up with the timeline of the story?

WVD: Technology, man. It is a beast and it keeps messing with you. Being a writer and including technology in your writing is a dangerous thing, because it may completely change in six months. Having a series that spanned 18 years which only spanned 2-3 in Sammy world was challenging. She doesn’t have a cell phone; how do you explain that none of her friends are texting? How do you make it relevant to kids now when all the technology makes the world such a different place? So, when they went and redid the covers recently, I asked if I could go through the entire series and emphasize little references to technology. When’s the last time you’ve seen a payphone? Sammy has a payphone! It’s like, “Okay, kids don’t even know how to use a payphone anymore.” But how do you change the series so that it is still relevant to today’s kids? And so, I went through and I would add a little word or I would subtract a little word, so that it would kind of mold to technology. Instead of flipping open your phone, you would tap on your phone. So I would change “flip” to “tap.” And I couldn’t get rid of the payphone- it was a big thing- so I would add the word “ancient” in front of it. So she goes to this ancient payphone. Just the technology and updating it across the series, and especially at the very beginning, there were some challenges. When we get to the end, Heather’s got a cellphone and technology’s referred to, but I had to get rid of CD players. There were things that were already outdated, like in Psycho Kitty Queen she had a CD player. I think with all the experience of writing over the years, I’ve become a better writer, but not applying my improved skills to Hotel Thief and Skeleton Man and Sisters of Mercy and other early books, I had to tell myself, “You’re just here for technology. That’s all you’re here for.”

AM: The Sammy Keyes series is full of several diverse, unique, well-developed characters. Are any of the characters inspired by real people from your life?

WVD: That’s interesting, because the answer to that is pretty much no- Sammy’s a hybrid of the characteristics that I liked in the students I saw everyday. I would say that if there were, it would be an amalgamation of people. The ones who are the bad guys- they are more a person who has become a character than a character who was just a character. I usually start from a place with the bad guys, I start from a place of annoyance about a person, and then over time, they become the character. I usually hold onto who they were to begin with. You have people who are mean to you in life, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. But if you do something about it on a page…it’s very satisfying. 


I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen.”


AM: One of the most notable aspects of the Sammy Keyes series is the undertones of real-life social and human issues, such as gang culture in Snake Eyes and environmental awareness in Wild Things. Did you purposefully add in these elements to introduce young readers to these topics in an accessible, creative way? 

WVD: Absolutely. I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message. Mostly, I just want to present a situation and I want my readers to come away thinking about it, discussing it or expanding their view of it. In Wild Things, the whole thing about Sammy is that she thinks, “Why would anybody want to save a condor? It’s stinky and eats dead stuff, it’s ugly, what’s the big deal about saving a condor?” And then, by the end, she understands. But I think a lot of kids would relate to Sammy thinking, “Oh, well, it’s a bird who eats dead stuff. Who cares.” It’s like a game of basketball as opposed to running laps. You get to play a game, you get a little competition, you’re jumping and you’re running…as opposed to “Here’s the whistle, you’ve got to go around the track.” I’d way rather have my readers play a game of basketball than feel like I’m marching them around a track.

AM: Was it difficult for you to ultimately end the series after eighteen books, or did you feel relieved by the sense of closure to Sammy’s story?

WVD: Oh my gosh, it was so hard and emotional for me. She was like the daughter I didn’t have. First she was my peer, and then time went by, and she didn’t get any older and I did. I had  two sons, so I didn’t have a girl. The eighteenth book came out about the time my son turned eighteen, so he was leaving home, and there were all these things ending at the same time. I was so emotional, and just the thought that I’d been with this girl and I’d lived in her world for all these years, and I’d think about her all the time. To create a story, you need to have a character and their world in your head, and I had her in my head all the time. And then, all of the sudden, it’s like I’m reaching the end and this was the last one. I do feel like a series should have what I call a “swan dive”: you should go out big and strong. You shouldn’t fizzle away. Anyway, I reached my goal, she had survived middle school (barely), but it was time, and it was really hard. People have asked me if I’ve planned to write a YA version of Sammy, and I just don’t. I think she belongs where she is; there’s a reason that she exists where she does. I think middle school years are the hardest years, and if you have a friend like Sammy to help you through those, I think you’re going to be alright.   


“I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message.”


AM: Do you have a proudest series that you’ve written so far, or would that be like picking a favorite child for you?

WVD: I have two short series for younger readers, and I have Sammy Keyes. If we’re talking proudest series, that would have to be Sam. It took such a big part of my life to create. Picking a favorite title of any kind is not something I want to try to do, because they’re all special in their own way. 

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Look at her with all her books. LOOK. 

AM: What is something that you wish more people knew about you?

WVD: Wow. I’ve always tried to keep myself secret. I think that I have an initial impression that is not in keeping with what is actually me. I have blonde hair, I’m tall, I’m thin… but I’m not that person. I am someone who struggles with her ups and downs. I run a lot because it helps to stabilize my mood, and I get cloudy- let’s put it that way. I get cloudy and I feel misunderstood. I think it’s partly my own fault because I’m blonde (and I can’t help the tall), but this is just my structure. I think it projects an image which is not in keeping with who I am and my soul. You would hope that people would judge you on your work and the way you conducted your life, but in our society, we’re very snap-judgmenty. And so, I withdraw. I tend to withdraw as opposed to fighting a battle that I feel one couldn’t possibly understand. I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen. And so, just the notion that “You’ve got all that” doesn’t reflect what it took. Anyway, that got a little heavy.       

AM: What are your other hobbies besides writing?

WVD: Reading, running, and rock ‘n’ roll. There is nothing more freeing than rock ‘n’ roll. My husband’s a drummer, and he’s also a young adult book writer. He and I, and our two sons once they became teenagers, started a band together. I have trouble sitting still, so rock ‘n’ roll is very physical for me. It’s just a fun release, and doing it with my family is so cool. Reading is what I do because I love to read, and running is for my health, my cardiovascular system, and mostly, my sanity.  

AM: How do you think social media has lent itself to you as a writer and a creator? Do you feel like it has created a more personable relationship with your audience?

WVD: Yeah! I would say that for the positives, that’s true. I would also say that it helps me still feel connected to my career of being a teacher. Teachers on Twitter are very positive people. Twitter has a lot of negative people, but the teachers put forth support, they share ideas, they’re very forward-thinking, and I love feeling like I still have exposure to that community. That to me has been the best part of social media- the teacher presence.     

AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers and readers?

WVD: To be a writer, you need to be a reader. I really firmly believe that. Read read read, and then to be a writer, you have to write. And writing, actually, is work. You have to sit down and do it. I have a lot of people in my life who have always said they always wanted to write a book. Maybe they got to chapter one, and then they discovered that it’s work. If you really want to be a writer, you have to read a lot, and then you have to write a lot. Like anything else, you only get better at it when you do it. ★

You can keep up with Wendelin by checking out her website or by following her on instagram @wendelinvand

Secondhand Thrift Haul: Summer Picks

As a Bostonian, I am extremely lucky to be near The Garment District- a department store notable for its wide selection of vintage products. For a thrift lover like me, it’s an absolute dream come true to visit the giant two-floor shop and browse for unique, vintage finds. According to The Garment District website, they pride themselves on being a “green business.” Not only are they doing a great thing by reselling wonderful vintage clothing, which helps prevent the buildup of clothes in landfills, they also send unusable clothes to “shoddy mills” so that they can be repurposed into other textiles.

Now, I don’t have tons of free money to throw around, so if I am going to buy clothes, it’s going to be something I keep for years and utilize as an essential clothing item. I’m really in love with everything I bought, and I’m looking forward to getting a good use out of everything! The only thing I didn’t actually buy myself was the pink top, as my roommate actually bought it at The Garment District with me, but then decided she didn’t like it.


“Grateful I’m Not Dead” T-Shirt | $16

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Speaking of my roommate, it was actually her who spotted this Grateful Dead t-shirt for me on the tye dye rack. Erin, if you’re reading this, you have no idea how happy this made me! I absolutely adore the Grateful Dead, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a vintage t-shirt in such great condition. I also like that the shirt is an XL, because I definitely prefer to wear t-shirts that are a bit loose on me. Nathaniel is also super excited about the shirt, so I’ll definitely be sharing it with him. 


Wide-Leg Jeans | $15 | Ann Taylor

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please ignore my messy room

I’ve wanted to buy bell-bottom jeans (or something similar) for a while now, so I was pretty excited to find the perfect pair in my size. Being a curvy girl, I prefer jeans that are high-waisted and flattering for my figure, and these jeans make me look absolutely fabulous. They also make my legs look ten miles long, particularly when paired with my favorite pair of wedges. I can always justify buying a good pair of vintage jeans, and for fifteen dollars, I’d be silly not to get them. 


Shorts | $15 | Bugle Boy Company

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I’ve never owned a pair of baggy shorts, and I have to say, I love them way more than my tight-fitting ones. Sure, they make my ass look like a blob, but they’re very comfortable and functional for the humid summertime ahead. Particularly since I’m going to Maine to visit my mom in about a week, I figured it would be convenient to buy a pair of durable, comfortable shorts to wear on hikes and kayaking adventures. As you can see, I have paired it with my new favorite Grateful Dead tye dye shirt, and I think it looks so groovy and cute. 


Belt | $12 | Lucky Brand 

I haven’t owned a belt since middle school, and it’s not often you find a Lucky Brand item for so cheap, so I figured this would also be a practical, reasonable purchase. For a while, I was pretty much only wearing yoga pants and pajama bottoms (that quarantine life,) but I decided this week it was probably high time I buy some real pants and a real belt to go with them.


Top | LOVESAM

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Like I said, this was actually a top that Erin bought, but she decided she didn’t like it after she realized it had sleeves. I have to say, the sleeves are actually my favorite part. I think the cut and the material combined with the sleeves give this top a real 70s vibe, which matches the rest of the clothes I bought perfectly. I also think the color is beautiful, as I love wearing pinks and other soft, pastel colors throughout the spring and summer. I’m not sure how much Erin paid for the top, but I’m going to guess it was between $10-15. I also just peaked at the LOVESAM website, and it looks like everything in stock is between $150-200. Not a bad steal! 


Dress | $20 | Modcloth

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Lastly but certainly not least, I fell in love with this Modcloth brand dress in the contemporary dresses department. I adore anything quirky and floral, so of course I could immediately picture myself in this lovely little number. I also really like the color scheme of garish greens and yellows, because it reminds me of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. This will be another great outfit to bring to Maine next week, because the cotton material is light, airy, and perfect for traveling. Similarly to my flare jeans, this dress also looks really cute with the wedges.


Overall, I would say this was a successful, productive shopping trip. On top of that, I am happy to be supporting such a progressive, green company through my clothing purchases. If you are ever in the Boston area, I highly recommend visiting the Cambridge location of The Garment District! 

The World is Ours: A Conversation with Author Abby Elise

As a writer myself, I’ve always admired fellow authors and musers who incorporate real-life themes and struggles into their fictional stories. The World is Ours, the debut work by undergrad student Abby Elise, explores a young man’s journey to discovering and embracing his gay identity through heartbreak, mishap, and tons of self discovery along the way. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby, who had much to say about books, queer advocacy, and her own journey of self-discovery.

The World is Ours: Elise, Abby: 9780359867370: Amazon.com: Books

Analog Magazine: How long have you been a writer and when did you realize that it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Abby Elise: I have always been fascinated by fiction and storytelling since I was child. I was in the fifth grade when I attempted my first novel just to see if writing stories was something I could possibly consider a career path. I kept at writing, attempting different genres, and in high school, I discovered it was something I wanted to pursue. I was writing all the time, doing research, and learning more about what path I should go down to be successful. It wasn’t until halfway through my second year of my undergraduate program that I decided I wanted to get a degree in creative writing and English, which I think was the best decision I could have made for myself.

AM: Who were your favorite authors growing up and how did they influence your style as a writer?

AE: I think the most influential authors of my youth were the ones I read in middle school, which is one of the biggest periods of transformation and growth anyone goes through generally. I think Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower were two of the more influential books I read during this time. Both of these authors, specifically citing the works of their I mentioned, use real-world struggles and themes through a young adult lens. These were some of my first experiences with YA fiction, which really sparked my love of reading. Divergent taught me that there is always a fight to be fought and that I can use fiction to do that and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was my first experience with queer characters and queer struggles in fiction, which was extremely eye-opening to me as a young writer.

AM: What other passions and hobbies are you interested in?

AE: I used to take music lessons throughout middle and high school, but I have lost a bit of that spark since moving onto college. I am also extremely passionate about activism and I do what I can to use my platform to promote change and to amplify the voices that need to be heard.

AM: What inspired you to write your debut novel, The World is Ours?

AE: I have been writing for a long time now and it took me years to write something that felt right to me. I spent a long time convinced that fiction had to feel distanced from me. Then, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which weren’t my stories, but they felt close to me. I went to see Love, Simon in theaters twice, and when I was walking back to my dorm after the second time, I couldn’t help but thinking that I wanted to try writing a story that felt close to my own experiences. I ended up taking three major events from my own life at the time, created a boy named Riley, and wrote a story that felt authentic to me. It was a search for personal authenticity that inspired The World is Ours, which I found while writing it.

AM: How does queerness and the LGBT+ community lend itself to The World is Ours?

AE: The main character, Riley, is a questioning/closeted gay boy. Over the course of the novel, Riley goes on a major journey of self-discovery, which I worked hard to make it authentic to a general queer experience as much as I could. Riley experiences compulsory heterosexuality, internalized homophobia, heteronormativity, questioning, dating, heartbreak, coming out, being outed, homophobia, and learning how to accept himself over the course of the novel.

AM: What was the ultimate writing process like for you? Did you go through periods of ‘writer’s block’ while penning the story?

AE: The first time writing this story was the easiest writing has ever been for me. I had the full first draft complete after three months of writing it. I did zero planning or outline. I just had an end goal in mind and wrote every day until I got there. It was the most fun I ever had. I did experience some writer’s block because I had no real plan for the novel so there were a few stops, but nothing big enough to cause me trouble.

AM: How would you describe the feeling of finishing an entire book and watching it go out into the world?

AE: Finishing it was relieving and gratifying. I was proud of myself. Watching it go out into the world was scary. While I was excited to have the first book that felt authentic to me available to whoever, there was a sense of vulnerability with this one. Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward. I try not to be specific about what parts, themes, and topics of this book I’m referring to when I say this book is personal because I would like for this book to be viewed as separate from me despite how close it is.

AM: What types of books are you interested in reading? Do you have a favorite book?

AE: I am most interested in reading young adult and new adult fiction novels that feature queer characters and their struggles. I try not to limit genre and I like to read books about queer people who have experiences different from mine, like transgender and nonbinary characters by trans and nonbinary writers and/or queer characters of color writter by queer authors of color. I like learning about different experiences through the lenses of these characters because I think it is important to have somewhat of an understanding of what other people have to face so I can be a better person and ally moving forward.

My favorite novel currently is Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This novel helped me find my love of romantic comedies and my love of new adult fiction. I think it is well-crafted, well-written, and well-thought-out. It was fully entertaining from beginning to end and I learned a lot from it that I didn’t know before. This is the first book I list when people ask me for recommendations always.

AM: Have your friends and family been supportive of you along this journey?

AE: Very much so! My friends and family always help me out by advocating for me, sharing my posts, and buying copies from me. My friends have been endlessly supportive of me. They are always willing to read what I write, give feedback, or give me support when I need it. My sister, Meaghan, was consistently reading this project, providing feedback, and doing a bunch of work to help this book succeed.

I do worry that while everyone has been supportive of me and my publishing journey, I do not think they have all been supportive of the story itself. I had one member of my family try to convince me to have Riley go through all his questioning but find out he is straight in the end because they did not want me writing a happy ending for a gay character. This happened years ago and has lived with me since. While sexuality is fluid and people do question their sexuality just to realize they are straight, that is not Riley’s story. I will never write a straight character. Straight people have plenty of books to choose from where they can see themselves, they just won’t find themselves leading my books. I took this as a very clear sign that people only support the concept of me writing my books, not the actual books themselves.


“Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward.”


AM: What is something you wish everybody knew about you?

AE: I listen to girl in red.

AM: Do you feel like you’re living a meaningful life?

AE: I do. Lately, the concept of life has been troubling me, and I realized that it is not because I’m afraid of death or because I have a desire to live, but I want to be alive and feel alive. It’s hard to feel like I am living a meaningful life while staying at home and social distancing, but in the grand scheme of things, I am living a meaningful life. In a year from now, I will have my undergraduate degree completed and I will be on track to my next step whatever it might be. What makes life meaningful is different for everyone. For me, it is hard work and dedication, which I hope I will see pay off one day. Either way, I believe I’m living a meaningful life.

AM: What are your dreams and aspirations for the future?

AE: Right now, I’m uncertain. I do intend on going directly into a graduate program after I graduate next year. It is hard to know exactly what the world is going to look like in a year from now with all that is going on. I don’t know what will be available to me then, but I do intend to work hard to find a career somewhere in the publishing industry.

AM: Do you have another book to publish in mind?

AE: I am currently working on a project that I am thoroughly excited about. I’m having a lot of fun working on it. I don’t know when it will be published, but I do intend on one day publishing it. I’m planning on taking my time with this one. The main character is a lesbian, which has made this story so much fun to tell. I’m looking forward to sharing it with people one day.

AM: Lastly, what advice do you have for other young writers?

AE: Don’t be afraid to tell the story that feels true to you and don’t let anyone tell you how to tell your story. It can be scary to tell an authentic story, but it is so gratifying. ★

 

You can keep up with Abby by following her on Instagram @abbyelisewrites

Orenda raps Podcast

Tyson Buggs, a 19 year old from Easton, Ma. sits down with me to discuss his future as a designer, rapping, and all things fashion.

By Abi Brown

Tyson was the first friend I made at Lasell University and the strides he has made as a person and artist has shocked myself and our community at Lasell. We got real about Hypebeast culture, other Lasell designers such as BUSHLAND, and who inspires him the most. Tyson Buggs is a name you are going to want to remember, so give our conversation a listen!

“Especially right now when times become tragic, fashion becomes drastic. In my mind with this whole pandemic were going to start seeing weirder pieces…”

Check out Tyson’s store here

Check out Tyson’s Soundcloud here