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.

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. 

What’s in a name?

Reflections on the Artist “Stigma” – from a recent art school grad.   

So you went to art school? Yes, well not before I can blurt out that I double majored and have a degree in P.R. as well. Let’s address the underlying shame that no one seems to talk about, the kind that comes hand in hand with being an artist. The kind of shame, and that horrendous stigma, embedded in spending thousands of dollars for a PDF (thanks COVID) in any form of art. 

“Oh that’s nice, so what are you going to do with that?” 

Ahh, the question every art student absolutely adores. 

Ask me that again, please I beg of you. No really, it’s not like I haven’t rehearsed this in my head several hundred times before coming to this function. 

Now that I’ve graduated college, I’ve made it into the “It’s not practical. How are you going to pay your bills? What about insurance?” phase. (Thanks for the support, mom.)

Growing up on Long Island, came with the blessings and curses of every small, suburban, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Or what I can only assume, before college, I hadn’t lived anywhere else. It’s the trivial stuff like bumping into everyone and their mother at the local bagel shop in the morning, knowing exactly who cut you off by the sound of their obnoxious car horn, and the public school system that “supports” the arts yet funds everything but that. Pushing for STEM, and ingraining the standard into our young minds that success shall only come to those who will become scientists, engineers, doctors, or work in the business world. 

Why is it that people are so impressed by my talent but so unwilling to support it? The stigma of going to art school and being an artist made me embarrassed to embrace my choice of major and lifestyle for way too long. 

Four years later and amidst a pandemic has granted me a lot of time to reflect. 

So, here’s what I got:

  • The definition of success is different for everyone. 
    • For some success is monetary. Diritivive from the amount of money they make. 
    • While art is much more than just a commodity, in the era of Amazon and manufactured crafts, people seem to have forgotten how much fine art can be worth. In this age, unfortunately, a significant amount of artists undersell their work in order to gain more exposure. Here’s my shameless reminder to support small businesses. Your local artists and businesses will appreciate you much more than the Bezos empire ever will. 
    • For others, success might be grounded from stability and practicality. A reliable check and dependable insurance for some reason are not guaranteed to most artists in the world, and especially not in America. Can’t tell you I don’t know where the starving artist phrase originated from.
    • Lastly, happiness. The great debate – money or passion. Money doesn’t impress everyone. If you’re going to devote most of the hours of your life working – why would you sacrifice your happiness for money? That’s just me, anyways. If you’re truly passionate and devoted to what you love, there will always be a way to pursue it. 
  • Defunding leads to disinterest. 
    • The system here is comparative to the Uroboros, the ancient symbol originating in Egyptian Iconography, of a serpent biting off its own tail in an infinite continuous circular motion. My middle and high school art classes and teachers played a significant role in my development as an artist. Without this exposure, I would have never known pursuing art would be where my future career would lie. As arts defunding increases and programs are removed from education curriculums, the less aware future generations are. Which, you guessed it, leads to more defunding – and the toxic endless cycle continues. 
  • Jealousy and envy, of talent and freedom
    • Do I need to elaborate? This one is pretty self-explanatory. 
  • Straight up ignorance 
    • “Oh, but art is fun and easy!” “You get to make pretty pictures all day!” Hmmm yeah sure, how about you say that again after spending countless nights awake slaving over the several hand-stapled canvases nearly as tall as you for the mid-year critique for something just not to be “working” in the eyes of your professor. Or the countless gallery and exhibition rejections, with little to no reason why besides the “it’s just not my taste” from curators.
    • Critiques and critics can be harsh and blunt, and no it’s not just like getting an individual test grade. All your peers are present as you get ripped to shreds. 
    • The tools for our craft are anything but cheap. I walked into Blick (an art supply store for all you non-artist readers) the other day, and walked out 65 dollars lighter from only purchasing two small paintbrushes, two 37ml tubes of oil paint, and one relatively small canvas that happened to be 40% off.
    • Not to mention the physical exhaustion, sore arms, callused fingers, and the toxic chemical highs that can come along for the ride too.  
  • You are not just an artist. 
    • Your work does not just sell itself. With taking on the title of an artist, you also take on the responsibilities of becoming your own marketer, publicist, social media specialist. 
    • Being an artist is more than just a title, it’s a whole lifestyle. 

And lastly, 

  • When it comes to creating art there is no right answer.  There isn’t a textbook model to follow. While there are inspirations and references, the ever-evolving style artist spends years developing is purely our own.
    • Art allows the freedom of authentic and raw self-expression. Us artists pour our hearts and soul into our work. Creations often stem from our utmost vulnerable states. And we really just are throwing it out there for the world to see, hoping others resonate as well.   

Hey, I get it, pursuing an arts-related career might not be for everyone. Trust me, I dreaded every moment of chemistry. Luckily for nearly every other professional, society does not work against them. On top of all the stigmas, judgment, and pressure to succeed – to be an artist it’s anything but easy. The lifestyle might not be for you, but there’s absolutely no reason not to support and encourage those who are brave enough to face the world as artists.

Graduating into this pandemic has given me a lot of time to embrace my artistic side and remind myself the world would not thrive without the arts and humanities. Art gives a voice to the voiceless – platforms to the powerless. History would cease to exist otherwise. So to all you creators who’ve read this far, keep pushing, keep creating. At least we already know we’ll be worth more when we’re dead anyway.

What is calendar blocking- and why do i do it?

Hello fellow humans; it’s your favorite Earth sign coming at you with some great organization tactics.

For the vast majority of my life, I believed I was an unorganized person because sometimes my room gets a little messy and I don’t make my bed every morning. For 18 years, my very organized mother and the public school system really kept me on track, as every event or task had a start and end time, for the most part. When I entered my first year of college, I was thrown for a huge whirlwind, having lost a consistent school schedule and the main person who kept track of my life. After floundering for a year, and adjusting poorly to life on my own, I decided something needed to change. I entered sophomore year of college with an 18 credit schedule, as a new resident advisor, in a new relationship, and after one day of training for the school year I thought- “I’ve gotta get my shit together”.

I’ve been using Google Calendar since August of 2017 to generally keep track of my daily going-ons. In college this mainly consisted of classes and meetings, working in tandem with the most ridiculous amount of to-do lists crowding my notes app or sketchbooks. 

(Look at all that open time to just… vaguely “Get work done??)

After graduating college and formally entering the workforce, I started feeling ridiculously lost on a day to day basis with the way I was still attempting to handle my scheduling. I would also often forget things I had scheduled but not entered into my calendar, and no one likes to miss or have to reschedule something they promised they’d do.

(Seriously what is that? I was unemployed but still-)

That was until I found a concept called Calendar Blocking. By happenstance, a video popped up on my feed by a YouTuber named Amy Landino, about how she uses Google Calendar in a very different way than I had been doing for years.

https://youtu.be/LvZp-ogt1vw

What is Calendar Blocking? Let’s start there. Calendar Blocking is a method of scheduling where you plot out your calendar with all of your major, necessary events, thus making time for smaller things you never knew you had the time to do. It’s an amazing tactic for time optimization, because personally, something I’ve often said is “I just really don’t have time to relax”. With all your larger tasks already laid out in front of you, it is so much easier to see the extra time you didn’t know you had in a day.

[I will disclaim that I am a decently busy person, and I put this upon myself. I work a full time 40 hour a week job, (which pre-COVID I was making a daily 4 hour commute into the city for my job), while also working 4 other part-time/freelance jobs, hosting a weekly podcast, being part of a monthly book club, going to an average 1-2 concerts a week, working out, sleeping 4-6 hours every night and going on random dates/keeping up a pretty decent social life. I am very well aware of what a psycho I must look like, but if this can work for me, it can definitely work for you.]

To start my Calendar Blocking journey, I utilized the “My calendars” tool on the left most side of your Google Calendar. (I would highly suggest starting your GCal journey on a laptop for clarity’s sake.) Didn’t know you could create different calendars for yourself within GCal? Me neither! I wrote down a list of the most major things I consistently do and would need separated/categorized. For me, that was Work, Travel, Routines, Workouts, Friends, Family, Concerts, Dates, Personal, and “General Get Stuff Done”. That sounds like a lot, but stay with me. When you separate out these calendars, you can label them, and make them different colors. For more visual people such as myself, once my week is plotted out, I can look at a calendar and know just how much work, personal etc. tasks I plan on doing that week. (The colors are also personal to what I think deserves each color and it makes it look pretty). You can also turn off certain calendars if you only want to see, say, what your work schedule looks like for the week.

Once I had my calendars set up, it was time to get to work in putting in my daily/weekly schedule. Knowing I had my full time job from 9:30am-5:30pm every weekday was a fantastic start. I scheduled in my “Work” calendar a weekday repeating event labeled “Work at [My company]. From there, I wonder, how long does it take me to get to work? After looking up train times, I schedule a “Travel” event for my trains to work and home every day, plus the drives to and from the train station. With 12 hours of my day already plotted, looking at the next 12 hours was easy. 8 to sleep, 2 to eat, 1.5 for getting ready and daily hygiene, all in “Routines”. You heard me, I schedule my showers. Sometimes you don’t remember you need to make time for things like that! 

The basics

Okay, so I know looking at this makes some folks want to vomit, and trust me, I understand. This is not for the faint of heart. For me, this brings the Earth sign in me extreme peace. Why? Because now I know where I’m supposed to be for all those hours and at what time. And what you don’t see in this screenshot is the open hours from 7pm-midnight everyday. I personally would maximize my time by doing all of the freelance work or book club reading I could on my daily 4 hour commute. This leaves time for all the other things I want to do.

Now that we have the concrete, immovable tasks/events in place, we can move on to the things we want to do! When someone asks “when are you free?”, it is clear as day that according to this schedule right now, that I am free, say Wednesday night for dinner with an old college friend, and Friday night to watch The Mandalorian with my dad? Of course!

Now that I’ve scheduled both the “have to’s”, and the “for funs”, all things to do with other people, I consider myself. Things I need to do or would like to do, that only concern me, or can be moved. Something that scares people a lot about calendar blocking is the seemingly inflexibility of this form of scheduling. Bear in mind that this is just a “block”. It’s just an estimated amount of time in which you promise yourself you’re going to do something. It’s important to keep your goals realistic, and also make a promise to yourself not to beat yourself up when you have to extend a task by an hour or so. That is perfectly okay, it’s Google Calendar, it’s not set in stone.

And voila! We’ve got a week planned! Personally I like to normally fill each day, even if I just put up a personal block for “dicking around on my phone” or “talking to my mom on the porch”, because it’s so important to schedule some downtime in your busy schedule. Calendar Blocking for me is part organization, part time maximization- and in the least captialistic way possible. I have a really hard time conceptualizing in my head how long something will take to do, or what my week looks like if I don’t have it right in front of me. Having those big open white spaces after I’ve scheduled all of my necessary tasks for the week brings me peace and freedom to plan for time to relax and do things specifically for myself, which I’ve never prioritized in my life before now.

I personally am a person who needs structure but malleability in that structure. Seeing the things I “must” do allows me to be able to do the things I “want” freely and without worry. I think this way of scheduling your life is super beneficial for people who love the in-betweens, like yours truly. The number one reason I love Google Calendar as the vehicle for this kind of scheduling is that it is available across any device you have internet, your phone, your iPad, your laptop, so you can access it anywhere to look at or alter. The last helpful thing I do is have a reminder set on all events to notify me 10 minutes before an event is happening. This is very helpful for those of us who have an “out of sight out of mind” tendencies, because the calendar will literally tell you you have things to do or places to be. 

Now, during COVID, ironically enough I have the most time I’ve had in a while to get things done, especially working out, because I don’t have to give up 4 hours a day on a train. That’s why when everyone was freaking out about staying busy inside and adjusting, I just looked at my GCal was like, oh we’ve got this babe.

If you’d like more information on Calendar Blocking, I would highly recommend watching the video by Amy, linked above. While this article is basically a pitch as to why you should Calendar Block, she does an incredible job walking you through actually using Google Calendar. I’m eternally grateful I found this way of scheduling, and I hope this provided you some insight on how to potentially better organize your days. I think at this point in my life I can formally say, I am an organized person. Happy scheduling folks!

21 Life lessons

I turned 21 today, and while there is still a pandemic and no way for me to really celebrate with my friends, I decided to share with you all 21 life lessons that I’ve learned throughout my life. I am doing this because with life being so bleak lately, sometimes a little optimism is what just one person needs to see. These are things that I was taught by loved ones as well as people I’ve never met. 

  • You never have to do today again.

This resonates with me the most because of my struggles with anxiety and depression. Some days are worse than others, but ultimately I learned that saying ‘you never have to do today again’ helps me feel better. There will always be tough days, but you never have to handle that same day ever again.

  • Do no harm but take no shit.
  • Being alive in today’s world is one of the bravest things you’ve done.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.

#livelaughloveStarWars

  • Turn your guilt into action.
  • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Tell others when they hurt you. You can learn a lot about a person from the way they react.
  • Loving yourself is hard. But it is worth every second of struggle to see the result. 
  • You are not a bother. You are not a burden.

This can be the most difficult journey. I’m still working on changing my mindset to match this idea.

  • The way you perceive yourself is often different from how others see you.
  • Do what you think is right.
  • Never be afraid to be the real you.
  • Be selfless but don’t be afraid to be selfish. Do what you need to do.
  • Sit outside in the sun.
  • You are your own fairy tale.

As quoted from Amanda Lovelace’s book of poetry Break Those Glass Slippers.

  • Be unapologetically passionate.
  • It’s okay to have bad days.
  • The only person that can bring true happiness is yourself.
  • The best things in life are priceless.
  • It doesn’t matter where you started, but where you end up.
  • Surround yourself with people who love you.

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.

I Don’t sound like a whiny bitch

January, 2020:

I have no idea how to express the emotions that I have inside of my head.

            This essay has been written now a total of four times. Each time, I have attempted to write the same story of self-discovery and finding the word that describes me. Each time I delete the essay (well, not delete. But I delete it from my mind) and open up a new, blank document. I try to find the words to describe how I’m feeling again. As if the new, empty white landscape will somehow stir the correct word out of the hibernation happening in my brain. Each time, I’m shocked it doesn’t work.

            In the first attempt at writing this essay, I wrote about the label I put on myself in the first sentence. I use this word as an act of defiance of my fingers. They don’t want to type the word out. They want to type anything but that word. I wrote it in order to see the word written out in front of me and know that it describes me, but yet I am still so scared to say it aloud. I am scared to say it to the wrong group of people. I am scared that I will have to change my mind.

            I think that’s the worst part about putting this down in words. That I’ll be wrong and I’ll have to change my mind, yet again. The warring sides of my brain violently tear each other apart as I try to decide whether I want this label. The thought of writing it down in words is the worst part, I think. Writing it down on paper makes it permanent.

            Speaking it out into the world is different. When I speak them to myself alone in my room, they dissipate into the air as if they were never there are all. The hit the walls around me and reflect back on myself like a gleaming spotlight. I can be proud of knowing who I am in my room. I can walk up to the microphone and say with the prestige and poise of the Queen of England. In reality, my hairbrush suffices as a microphone and my crowd of applauding audience members is just my collection of Funko Pop figures.

            When I said it to the small group of people that know – not at the same time, of course – it was different too. Wrapped in the confined space of their endless support and appreciation. As the words fall out of my unprepared mind and into the shared space, their eyes light up with joy as I finally tell them one of the many secret aspects of my confined mind.

***

April, 2020:

I stopped scrolling. It’s May now. I am not afraid of the words anymore. I have come out to not only my family, but myself.

            There are a lot of things to unpack. Not only in this first section, but rather throughout the whole essay. I was in an insecure spot in my life in these days leading up to writing this piece. Thinking back to when my fingers flew over the keyboard, I think I was trying to reason with myself in this piece.

            I learned a lot after this. A now good friend taught me how to become comfortable with myself. I want to thank her for all of the support and love she’s given me after finally coming out.

            I know now that my feelings are valid, and I am not alone. I don’t need everyone to know and accept it. All it matters is how I’m feeling now. That’s what this text should represent.

***

I told my father first before anyone else. Before I even admitted it to myself, actually. Lying on the couch, listening to him make a comment about how one day he’ll be able to walk me down the aisle to my husband.

            “I don’t like guys, dad.”

            “Really? Not even a little bit?” He asked me with his full attention taken away from the television.

            “Not really.” I expected him to tell me that it was a phase, that it wasn’t right, or that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like guys. I had been raised that way. Actually, conditioned would be a better word for it.

            To my surprise, he only said “You can love who you want to love. As long as you aren’t lonely.”

            “I wouldn’t mind being alone. I’ll just have cats for the rest of my life,” I replied with a chuckle.

            He didn’t laugh but smiled wearily at me “That’s what you say now. But it sucks to be alone.”

I was left looking at him, having a newfound understanding of my father. The man who called himself a ‘Florida Cracker’ really did understand me. He wanted me to be happy. All of the offensive jokes he makes or the brutal slurs he yells while driving may start to define his surface, but deep down he cared. He always had.

As I smiled at him, my father, lovingly said as a Subaru commercial came on the tv “Do we have to get rid of the jeep and get you one of those now? Subaru’s are lesbian cars, you know.”

***

I had, and continue to be, worried about labeling myself. What if I changed my mind again? I thought at first that I just wasn’t attracted to anyone and that I never would be. I was okay with the idea of being alone because I thought that’s what my label wanted me to be, which is entirely not true. I focused myself on doing research to find out that the word didn’t mean ‘alone forever’ or ‘crazy cat lady for life.’ It just meant that I felt the way that I did when it came to relationships, and that I could still be loved and feel love.

***

            The first, and only, boy I dated was named JD. We had been friends all of middle school. I never thought before him that I would ever have that moment where someone would have a crush on me. At the end of eighth grade, he texted me saying that if I didn’t feel the same way that he did, he wasn’t going to be upset. He still wanted to be friends with me. He liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

            My fingers went in circles around the keyboard buttons of my iPod touch. I eventually came up with the response: “My parents won’t let me date until high school.”

            In ninth grade, I thought that he had forgotten about that comment. I didn’t feel “butterflies” in my stomach, or my thoughts always revolving around the idea of being with him. I never wrote my name down repeatedly in my notebook with his last name plastered next to it. Besides, DeBoer just didn’t roll off the tongue quite right.

            In the middle of the summer leading up to our sophomore year, he texted me again. It was practically the same message. He wanted to be with me.

            It took me a long time to type out the simple message. I wanted him to know that I cared about him and that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I had worked so hard on it, I wanted it to sound like I was saying the words. I wanted it to come from the heart. I told him I thought that I liked him too.

***

            It’s easy to look back at the time in my life and understand that this wasn’t just me wanting to please everyone. Being able to look at this situation four years after the fact makes it so easy for me to point out every single thing I did wrong in that moment. I confused what friendship and a crush were. Even then, I find that to feel like an excuse because I’m giving a reason as to why I wanted to please him. I honestly think that I did it because I truly thought I liked him, and because it was drilled into my head starting at a young age to please a man.

            He made me happy. He made me feel appreciated. We had the same sense of humor and we both got along with each other’s friends. JD volunteered to build care packages for soldiers overseas. His family helped out with the local elections. He lived on a farm, and he took care of horses. He never said a negative thing about me or my friends. Every step of the way in our friendship, and relationship, he was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.

            I learned a lot about what a crush meant to me in that relationship. I knew that it had to have similar feelings as being in a friendship. You had to have similar interests to them, be able to spend time together consistently and be able to respect one another. Romantically, I still question what my personal definition of a crush is. I know that you have to be attracted to the person in some sense and that you want to be willing to learn and grow. That sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.

***

            Sometimes I wish I had that stereotypical coming-of-age movie moment, where I’m sitting in my car crying because my boyfriend cheated on me with the girl that I thought was my best friend. I wish I had the moment when I realized that my real best friend was in love with me and that I loved them too. I wish I had the moment where everything felt okay in the end. I want the credits to roll and I want to have my life figured out.

            I desperately want to label myself in the hopes that having this community around me will suddenly make me feel like those end credits are rolling by. The community would give me a place to feel safe, and to be able to express myself to the fullest extent. I see people around me who consider this part of their identity and envelop themselves in its warmth. They don’t label themselves with it, they make the word become theirs within their own personal definition.

            I want it to become my own word. I don’t want it to just mean what it means generally, but rather what it means in my life, in my experiences, and in my standards. I want it to become a part of my identity. I am aching to have this sense of embracing this word and connecting myself with it at a spiritual level. To have it collide within myself and soul. There is a desire within me to pull this word close and wrap it around my fingertips and write this word out.

            I can’t do it yet. I can’t write it down. I don’t trust myself at this point to not change my mind. The fear of being wrong about my label, again, drags me deeper and deeper down into wanting to keep it out of my writing. I know that it is who I really am, but it is difficult to embrace the thought when I am covered in cactus pricklers. It’s as if there’s a piece of my brain that never wants me to make up my mind and make a concrete decision. I’ve changed my major several times, thought about changing schools, and most of all thought about changing who I am so that I can fit into the general norms surrounding me.

***

            The heteronormative lifestyle around me within my hometown suffocates me at every turn. There is no obvious representation, but rather that the prom king and queen get the most attention for the year. The theatre departments never do shows involving the communities outside of what we see as ‘normal.’ These ideals were pushed upon me beginning with the simple cartoons I watched as a child, to my parents pressuring me into calling my boy friends my boyfriends in elementary school. Just a little space in between the words caused change within my mind as well as many others who feel a similar way.

***

I have told numerous people about my confusion in writing this. I have told people that this essay has changed four times. I have told people what this is really about. What I haven’t told people is that this is the way for me to actively get these feelings out of my brain and into the light. It gives me a chance to read out what my brain really means. It gives me a chance to talk about the word that I long for and strive to avoid labeling myself with. It gives my brain a chance to breathe.

***

            Since writing this piece, I have become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Not only within myself, but with other areas within myself. I want to tell my past self, though it is only four months later, that she is valid. Even now, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’m going to have to come out again. If I’m going to have to tell everyone that I was wrong, again.

Well, self, that’s okay. Past Colleen, you are a strong and brave woman. Your feelings and anxiety of the situation is valid. You can change your mind in the morning. It’s okay.

Half a Year in Isolation

A reflection by MJ Sullivan

Something I’ve noticed since the pandemic is that I’m literally never alone, ironically

It’s never quiet

There’s people and a felt presence always in my house

So much so that I stay where no one can go unless they ask for permission

I cloud my head with music or choppy digital voices or movies

So much so that I feel like I don’t have my own brain anymore

I even go to sleep every night and wake up listening to the same playlist, just for peace of mind

In between two songs last night, during the 2 seconds of silence I get every 3 minutes, I heard the crickets. I paused my music, hearing them in surround sound

I believe silence has a noise. It’s a slight hum in your ears, that for me when left too long turns into a ringing

During isolation, everything is right in front of me. Music in my ears, phone in my face, bed on my body

I miss the distance. I miss the more than 20 feet in front of me. I miss the tall skyscrapers or the open road or large mountains. I miss physically bumping into people on the streets, I miss sweaty white men’s armpits in my face at a concert, I miss being sardined with every type of person in a small metal tube under the biggest city in this shitty country

Everything now is so pointed. It’s all or it’s nothing. It’s hanging out with my family, or being completely by myself in my room. It’s seeing all my friends over zoom, and as soon as it’s over the room fills with absence until I feel like I’m drowning in it. I’m a sucker for a spectrum, or a grey area, and I miss it more than I can say

The idle musing of a nearby couple at my favorite coffee shop, where my nose fills with different flavors of bean water and my ears with the sound of the clacking of my own keyboard. The blaring shreds of a guitar and ripping vocals at the DIY show my band plays, followed by a soft “thank you for coming” by our sincere and soft spoken frontperson. The conversation you strike up with a person at the shitty college bar, the feeling of your lips on theirs with no consequence, the taste of their gin and tonic

I miss anonymity. I miss being a face in a crowd your eyes might glaze over instead of being forced upon you as pixels shown through blue light into your eyes. I miss the inbetween. There’s just so much this, and so much that, that I just crave thit or thas

It’s a small thing to consider, but I was wondering why everything seemed so overwhelming when in reality “little” is happening. But I’M happening. All the time. Too much. The outside world gave me an escape from me. I learned healthy coping mechanisms for when “me” was too much. They mostly relied on the world around me, hanging with a friend, driving my car, sitting in a coffee shop, seeing a live show, skipping around a target. Things that were once leisure are now essential, or obsolete. Things that were inconsequential now have massive consequences

When you have depression, or other mental health issues, they tell you to move, or go outside. Ironically, the pandemic has been both so much more easy, and so much more difficult for people who are regularly sad. On one hand, staying inside for days on end for me is incredibly easy, as I do it often and generally unpromptedly. So glad I could be a hero for just giving in to my own destructive tendencies

On the other hand, staying put goes exactly against everything I’ve worked for and been taught. How can something supposed to protect me be so evil in return?

I haven’t broken down in 6 months about the current state of the world, and I think that’s mostly because I’m numb. The ringing in my ears is deafening now, as the crickets have stopped and my toilet has finished its flush. I don’t know what to do or where to go from here, but I guess, no one else does either, right?

Right?