Cinco de Mayo

by Keira Keegan, sophomore writing coach

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! I am sure many of you have heard of Cinco de Mayo, but do you really know what this day celebrates? I didn’t, which is why I wanted to learn more about this special day and share it with you.

Photo courtesy of today.com

A Cinco de Mayo celebration

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. It is a day to commemorate a single battle, the Battle of Puebla. The Mexican Army came out of this battle with a victory over the French on May 5th of 1862. This was a somewhat unexpected win, considering the Mexicans were extremely outnumbered and poorly supplied. The battle began at daybreak and ended in the early evening, resulting in a French retreat. By the time the battle had ended, the French had lost almost 500 soldiers, which was five times greater than the number of Mexican soldiers who died in the fight. Although this battle did not mean a win in the overall war, it symbolized a victory for the Mexican government and provided renewed strength and energy to the resistance movement.

In reality, Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico and is not often celebrated. However, in the United States, it has turned into a way to commemorate and honor Mexican culture and heritage. The day is especially celebrated in areas of the US with large Mexican-American populations. The largest Cinco de Mayo festivals are held in the big cities of Los Ángeles, Chicago and Houston. Many of the festivities include parades, parties, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing, traditional foods, and other festive events.

Photo courtesy of foodrepublic.com

Mole poblano

The official dish of the holiday is mole poblano. Poblano, which is a dark red-brown sauce from Puebla made with dried poblano peppers and chocolate. It can be served in various ways, but is traditionally served with turkey.

I hope that you join in the Cinco de Mayo festivities by learning more about Mexican culture and indulging yourself in new traditions. Try cooking a traditional meal for your family, or get together with friends and family and partake in the festivities!

Music and Me

By Tyler Wasielewski, senior writing coach

If someone were to ask me about the most obnoxious, loud, and formless kind of music that I’ve ever heard, I would, without hesitation, describe to them the improvisations from when I was around four or five years old. In those moments, I thought that I was virtuoso; a master of my art. This is, of course, what I had thought—but my parents had other opinions. I suppose they heard me banging on the piano one too many times and said, “Yeah. That’s enough of that,” picked me up off the piano, and signed me up for piano lessons.  Before my first lesson, I was so excited to learn how to play like my brothers who had started years before me. My first piece of music was from a Beginners’ lesson book, and it was titled “Beep Beep!” Although extremely simple, the satisfaction of learning this piece drove me to continue with the instrument.

After blazing through all of the beginners’ lesson books that my first teachers gave me, my parents and I realized that they could only teach me so much. We decided to switch to a new teacher, someone who would inspire me and really guide me through my journey of music. It was because of this teacher that I became more serious and dedicated to playing the piano. He pushed me to really feel the music as my fingers flowed through the passages, and music started to have meaning to me. It became an extension of myself and a way to express myself. I took pride in what I did and felt a sense of achievement every time I played. My most treasured memories were when I played for family members like my aunts and uncles, because it made them happy to hear my music. (andIalsogotmoneyforplayingsothatwasnicetoo). Some days after I came home from school, my mom would ask me to play for her so she could relax. I was always happy to help her out.

In 9th and 10th grade, I stopped playing because I was so busy with high school that I lost sight of what allowed me to destress and relax. When school was shut down in my sophomore year, I was under overwhelming amounts of stress. I used music as a way to vent my frustrations, but the pieces I played were always technically challenging; strong and rambunctious; fiery and agitated; loud and sometimes unpleasant to listen to.  It gave me momentary relief and I thought I was redirecting my unpleasant feelings, but what I was essentially doing was abusing that poor piano and regressing back to banging on the piano like a 3-year old. 

I decided to transform my agitation into something more sustainable to me and the piano, so I pivoted to incorporate more calm and expressive music into my repertoire. I wanted to alleviate, rather than perpetuate. This shift allowed me to balance the instant relief of rambunctious pieces with the long-term relief of meditative ones. Soon after this shift, I began feeling way less stressed and started to share my music with others. Using my abilities to uplift others has inspired me to share my love for music and its effects through music therapy. This is something that I simply cannot live without; my experiences with music have made it a permanent, irreplaceable part of my life.

The Unnecessary Stress of the College Decision Process 

By Omar Yousef, senior writing coach

Every year, the senior class is subject to one of the most stressful periods of a person’s life: the college application process. This year especially, a record number of applicants to almost every college prompted a record low acceptance rate for these same colleges, and has left kids devastated for not being accepted into their dream university. 

I know it sucks not reaching a goal you’ve worked hard for 4 years to accomplish. I’m here to say, it doesn’t matter if you didn’t get into the school you wanted. There’s so many variables that go into the admissions process so the line of acceptance or rejection is a blurry one. Maybe you didn’t fit the demographic quotas the college needed to meet, or maybe the admissions staff was in a bad mood when they were reviewing your application. My point is that not getting into a school doesn’t mean you are dumber or worked less hard then someone who did get in. 

I was rejected from my early decision choice, and I was left wondering if it was even worth working so hard throughout high school. I now understand that it was. The countless long nights spent studying and free time used for extracurriculars will set you up with the habits to be a successful person regardless of where you go. Where you go to university doesn’t matter as much as what you do in that university. As long as you continue to be diligent, good things will come eventually. 

Be proud of wherever you end up, because that institution has given you the opportunity to prove yourself.

Café Sunday

by Maria Viviana Gonzalez de la Cruz, senior writing coach

Sunday. A rest day to most, a church day to others. “Others”— excluding me. As a child in Costa Rica, Sundays were “tomar café,” drink coffee, days. Every Sunday, my family would drive across San Jose to my grandparents’ house, and the rest of the de La Cruz family would too. Upon arrival, my grandma would have coffee made and a table full of treats, a table that would later endure lighthearted discussions about what everyone did that week, and tense political conversations fabricated by differing opinions. The aroma of coffee became a part of my Sunday rhythm, an anchor in my routine that gave me a familiar sense of warmth and unity. The aroma of coffee represents “tomar café” days to me; my first taste of being part of a community.

Within my “tomar cafe” community, my roles have changed. Initially, I was a little kid whose contribution consisted of gleeful screams and constant skipping. You would’ve found me playing with my cousins by either putting on my grandpa’s dress-up masks, or playing with cars. As I have gotten older, I have become more interested in conversing with my older family members while enjoying coffee and a bite to eat. I have also become an “older” cousin to some, meaning I am constantly followed and asked to play.

“Tomar cafe” days taught me what a community includes. Regardless of my age, my opinion has always been valued. No matter if I talked about Polly pockets as a six-year-old or about climate change as an 18-year-old, my family has listened. They have also supported me endlessly. I have never had to endure significant life changes alone. Moving to Minnesota has conveyed how truly special participating in “tomar cafe” days is; I miss them every Sunday. 

What community are you proud to be a part of? 

What Notable Queer Fiction Is Really Worth It?

by Sanna Walker, senior writing coach and editor of Writing It Out

Growing up I’ve always had a difficult time finding queer identities and relationships in books. It was not only hard finding the representation, but also finding a well written book where the characters aren’t one dimensional stereotypes. It was easy to feel alienated from good literature because heteronormative principles were usually pushed in each story. Throughout my reading journey, I have encountered many different queer stories, both good and bad. Here are reviews of some of the most notable works of queer fiction. I am here to let you know which of these books are worth reading 🙂 

It should be recognized, however, that a lot of notable queer literature revolves around white cis men and women. We have a long way to go until what is available to read wholly represents a diverse reading audience. I have tried including notable queer fiction below that also discusses the experiences of gay men and women of color. 

I also wanted to incorporate books that explore different genres of fiction, so that whether you’re interested in reading a beautiful and heavy soul-searching book or a light and fun beach read, you will be able to find what you’re looking for.

Photo courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Do I recommend: Absolutely 🙂

This is one of my favorite books. I read this a long time ago and recently reread it; it was just as amazing as it was the first time. The writing is simple, unembellished, and easy to understand. While primarily geared toward a young adult audience, it has beautiful themes that people of older ages can also easily appreciate. I would recommend reading this book if you’re interested in reading something sweet, wholesome, and sad, but not looking for a complicated and flowery book to delve into.

Photo courtesy of penguinrandomhouse.com

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Do I recommend: Yes!!

Technically this book is an autobiographical novel (written in the form of a letter addressed to the author’s mother), but I HAD to include it in this list. This is also one of the best books I have read. I would absolutely recommend it. The writing is beautiful; the author of this book is most known for his poetry, and his writing in this book reads like a beautiful poem. Vuong does talk in depth about trauma and some other tough issues, but this book highlights the authentic love he experiences as well. He always conveys his life experiences in a way that is very genuine. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is definitely one of those books that can be talked about at length because there are so many creative connections and themes throughout.

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

The Color Purple

Do I recommend: Yes!!

Alice Walker writes beautifully and creates a story that is sure to impact the reader in a visceral way. Walker talks frankly about the unending abuse that the main character endures and discusses the treatment that she faces as a black woman in the early twentieth century.

This is a book that communicates some of the strongest resilience across literature in fictional characters. The queer relationship in this book is also very beautiful; alongside some of her trauma, one of the characters comes to explore herself and her sexuality better. This book will have a devastating impact on the reader, but it’s a brilliant classic.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

Red, White And Royal Blue

Do I recommend: Yes

I would categorize this book as a fun, romantic beach read. It’s a lighter and more whimsical book that is easy to get through. The premise is also very fun: the son of the President of the U.S. and his nemesis, the Prince of England, fall in love. There’s also some wlw side characters! I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to read a more fast-paced and action-packed romance.

Photo courtesy of rainbowrowell.com

Carry On

Do I recommend: Yes

In this (unofficial) published Harry Potter fan fiction (the names are changed from the original names and the world is slightly different), Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter get together. The author wrote a few other books which follow a fictional fan fiction writer who “wrote” these stories. I really liked this book; it is well-written, and the length doesn’t seem a big obstacle considering how fast-paced the book is. The world is well-developed and the magic consistently makes sense within the world’s magical rules. I would especially recommend this book for those who grew up loving Harry Potter, as it’s very reminiscent of the Harry Potter series (with similar characters and a setting that is somewhat alike). The targeted audience for this book is young adults, but I think people of many different ages would enjoy it too.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

The Song of Achilles

Do I recommend: Yes

This is a very famous queer book, and it was recommended to me many times before I read it. The Song of Achilles is a love story between Achilles and his companion Patroclus. I think this book is worth reading, but a little overrated. I felt as though the end was rushed, and it takes a while for the story to build up in the beginning. But, overall, the book is well written and the story is very sweet.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

Last Night At The Telegraph Club

Do I recommend: Yes

This book is a coming of age story set in the early 1950s about a first generation Chinese-American teenage girl. It outlines how especially difficult the exploration of sexuality was during this time period. As the book progresses, the main character comes to understand herself better, both through her queer identity and through her cultural identity. The ending is well worth the slow build up throughout the book. I would totally recommend it. 

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Do I recommend: Yes!

This book follows the life story of a (fictitious) prominent Hollywood actress. She is a very unique character; she is very cunning and willing to make great sacrifices to stay famous. However, despite these traits, she is a very likable character. She’s very resilient and this is highlighted by describing the sexism and racism she faces throughout her career. Because the story is also partly told through a series of interviews that a young female journalist conducts with the actress when she is older (with the actress adding advice throughout her narrative), the story conveys a greater message about how women must take what they want in their careers and not be afraid to step over men in the process. With all of the action within this book, I guarantee you will feel propelled through its pages. 

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

They Both Die At The End

Do I recommend: !Don’t Read!

Because it is their last day on earth, the characters fall in love within one day. This stayed with me as I read the book and to me it undermined the authenticity of their love and their relationship. It seems as though it was meant to have a greater emotional impact than it actually did (especially because the love story was so rushed). The conversations within this book also sounded unnatural; it was a hard book to get into.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

Crier’s War

Do I recommend:  Maybe don’t

This is a sci-fi/ fantasy book that describes a world that’s ruled by cyborg-type super humans. The narration is split between two perspectives, a teenage human girl who participates in the rebellion against these super humans, and a princess super human. To me, the characters aren’t well developed, and the author doesn’t establish unique personalities. The plot moves slowly, and the ending is anti-climatic. This book has a sequel, but after reading Crier’s War I didn’t feel inclined to start it. A fantasy book with a queer relationship that I would recommend instead would be The Priory of The Orange Tree.

Hopefully these reviews can help you distinguish a little more between some of the most talked-about queer books. 

Happy reading 🙂

Doodle Psychology

by Grace Baeb, sophomore writing coach

Do you ever find yourself absentmindedly scribbling on the margins of your homework, maybe drawing flowers or suns on your wrist? If so, you’ve taken part in what just might be a nearly universal human experience—doodling. Although some may be bigger doodlers than others, I think it’s safe to assume that almost all of us have taken part at some point. Dating back to paintings on cave walls, spanning all the way to scrawled graffiti under bridges, we often take doodles for granted—but they might mean more than we realize. Research suggests that many of us have patterns and preferences in our doodles of choice, and finding these patterns could tell us more about ourselves.

For example—do flowers frequent your doodles? In general, flowers indicate a gentle or passive nature. Circular flowers with rounded petals could mean that the drawer is very friendly in nature, while flowers with a circular center and pointed petals could indicate an outer defensiveness.

How about squares or cubes? Boxy doodles could indicate a person who is logical, efficient, patient, and a leader.

Maybe you prefer to doodle stars? Consistent, organized stars could indicate a focused and dedicated individual. More chaotic and less uniform stars might reveal an energetic person.

Or maybe you like drawing faces! More attractive faces could reflect an optimist, while less attractive faces could reveal a pessimist. Extra attention to the eyes might suggest a desire to be noticed. Wide or circular faces suggest innocence, and cartoonish faces suggest a need for attention.

Clearly, there’s more to our doodles than meets the eye. Study hard, and you might be able to make guesses about people based solely on what you see them draw! With that being said, many times, a doodle is just a doodle—but it’s still fun to learn about the science behind them!

A Mini Guide to Boba

by Ming Wei Yeoh, sophomore writing coach

What started out a novelty beverage in Taiwan in the ‘80s has now become an international sensation. Boba tea, commonly known as just boba, has seen a recent spike in popularity in countries all around the world. In its most basic form, the drink is a brown sugar milk tea filled with black tapioca pearls, which are meant to be eaten alongside the tea. But nowadays, a limitless variety of different toppings and tea flavors are offered in nearly every boba store⁠—from jellies to popping boba to puddings⁠—with the potential to be mixed and matched as the customer pleases. Your first time in a boba store can be overwhelming; placing your order is a multistep process that requires choosing a drink flavor, sweetness level, ice level, and toppings. As a big fan of the drink, and someone who happens to work at a boba place, here is a short guide to boba places in Minnesota, whether you’re a first-timer or you’re just looking for recommendations.

Chatime

This is the store I work at and one of the biggest boba chains in the world. It has convenient locations at Eden Prairie Mall, Southdale Mall, the Mall of America, Dinkytown, and recently opened a new location at Ridgedale Mall. It’s a great place to stop by with friends when hanging out at any of these locations. Like most boba places, the drinks aren’t cheap⁠; they’re also pretty sweet, and weekends can get so busy that the line goes out the door for hours. But overall, it’s definitely a popular and convenient choice.

Current favorite drinks:
Coconut smoothie with pearls and coconut jelly at 50% sugar
Jasmine green milk tea with pearls at 50% sugar
Taro smoothie with pearls at 30% sugar

Kung Fu Tea

I love this place! ⁠There are several locations in Minneapolis, but sadly it’s out of the way for most people at MHS. The drinks make up for it in my opinion, with a variety of authentic flavors that are definitely unique to the brand. It’s generally a lot less sweet than other places I’ve tried, so regular sugar would be a safe bet even if you’re used to getting lower sweetness levels at other places. If you happen to be in Minneapolis, Kung Fu Tea is an affordable and delicious option that you should try out for sure.

Current favorite drink:
Jasmine milk tea with pearls at regular sugar

UniUni Tea

With locations in Minneapolis and the MOA, UniUni Tea might also be a bit out of the way for most MHS students. However, it offers the biggest and most high quality variety of drinks and toppings that I’ve seen in Minnesota, including yogurt and yakult drinks, cheese foam, and sesame, red bean, and longan flavored teas. But in exchange for the amazing ingredients, prices are definitely up there (a large drink with one topping is around $8), and it can also get very busy on weekends. Like Kung Fu Tea, drinks are a lot less sugary than Chatime, and so regular sugar is probably a good bet if you prefer your drinks to have a hint of sweetness.

Current favorite drink:
Jasmine green tea latte with pearls and grass jelly at regular sugar

Though I’m not a boba expert by any means, these are just some of my recommendations. I still have countless places I want to try, especially Mumu Tea and Sencha Tea Bar, which I’ve heard great things about. Boba is one of my favorite beverages and I’m glad it’s gaining popularity here in the US. If you haven’t already, you should definitely try it out!

The Best Summer Vacation Spot in Minnesota

by Molly Geldert, junior writing coach

As we’ve been heading into warmer weather, I have already begun to long for sunny summer days, free from the stress of school or any other worries. Not only am I looking forward to a less busy schedule and time to relax on warm summer nights, but I have already started planning some travel adventures. If you are like me, you love to be outside and free in nature. The outdoors bring me more peace than any other remedy, and I find that summer is the time when I am most able to benefit from the beauty of this earth. If you feel a similar way, I would highly recommend a visit to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

I have been going to the Boundary Waters with my family for five years in a row now, and it is my favorite place in the world. Although a camping trip like this may be intimidating to some as there is no cell service or showers to get clean, I find that the disconnect from the rest of the world and a separation from common routines is what makes the Boundary Waters so special. In this place, you are truly able to leave all stress behind and simply be free. This place is so special to me as it connects me to some of my most fond memories with the people I love most, and I feel more at peace there than anywhere else that I have visited. In the Boundary Waters, you are constantly surrounded by an endless landscape of lush greenery and crystal clear water, and beauty is all around. Your only mode of transportation is by canoe, which adds to the serenity as there is absolutely no noise from cars or other signs of urban life. There are additionally so few people around that it can feel as if you have the wilderness all to yourself, and it is these unique characteristics that make the Boundary Waters so appealing to myself and so many others.

Whether you are an experienced camper and wilderness lover, or are looking for a new summer trip idea, come to the Boundary Waters! Although this type of wilderness adventure is not everyone’s preferred form of travel, I believe that it is worth a visit, and you may find yourself falling in love and longing to go back the next summer.

All-State 2021–2022

by Meiling Mathur, junior writing coach

Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to perform at Minnesota Orchestra Hall as part of the 2021-2022 All-State Orchestra. We performed the last movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s fifth symphony and the first and last movements of Three Latin American Dances by Peruvian composer Gabriela Lena Frank, a suite of three pieces inspired by Latin American folk dances.

For those of you who may not know, the Minnesota Music Educators Association’s All-State Orchestra is an auditioned ensemble that is open to all musicians grades 10 to 12 across the state. In addition to orchestra, All-State also has ensembles for band and choir.

Last August, All-State’s summer camp was hosted at the College of St. Benedict. I spent a week rehearsing advanced repertoire, meeting new people, and eating multiple bowls of ice cream from the cafeteria. The campus was especially pretty in the summer — St. Benedict’s had many large lawns and brick pathways that were satisfying to run across. I particularly enjoyed the auditorium where we rehearsed in, which was not only aesthetically pleasing but also had great acoustics.

In addition, I made lots of new friends and became particularly close to a group of them. Even though we all come from different parts of the state, we’ve been able to keep in touch online for the last seven months. All-State was one of those unique experiences that was able to bring people together in a very short amount of time; it’s cool how our shared love of music was enough to create friendships between us that persisted even after the camp was over.

At camp, we spent about seven hours a day rehearsing, but our conductor, Maestro Wes Kenney, was so efficient that the hours flew by quickly. When we weren’t rehearsing, my friends and I were either practicing together or running around outside, which was a great way to work off all the ice cream I had consumed that week. Of all the activities that we did at camp, my favorite was the talent show on our final night. I got to see acts by my friends, like Elizabeth Wang’s K-Pop performance, Claire Acheson’s karate routine, and an impressive rendition of “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” by our orchestra’s brass section. I played Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 at the talent show, which was a lot of fun. I even got to play on a Steinway (a really good brand of pianos).

All-State camp in August came and went quickly, but we still had All-State’s festival in February to look forward to. Three weeks ago, we reconvened as an orchestra and spent a full day rehearsing at the Hilton in Minneapolis. Not only was it great to see everybody again after so long, but the six months we had to keep practicing our music helped us sound even better than we did in August. Even though we hadn’t played together as an orchestra for six months, we were able to get ourselves concert-ready in that one day. Before we knew it, we were onstage at Orchestra Hall the following evening, performing together as an ensemble for the last time.

Even though it’s been three weeks since our last performance together, there’s still next year’s All-State to look forward to. Tomorrow is the deadline for next year’s All-State auditions. After that, it’s only another five months until August comes and we do it all over again. In the meantime, I’ll be practicing my instrument, which I should really be doing right now instead of writing this blog post. Ciao.

bomb pop

by Maira Khurana

bomb pop

you grew up on bomb pops. 

cherry lime blue raspberry

stain your tongue red with iron, 

wage cold war on your lips

in midsummer heat. 

run on the blacktop, on the tarmac, 

spread your arms like an airplane. 

you dreamt of flying, dreamt of the 

rooftops shrinking as you rose up up up

into the sky- 

the universal homeland. 

you played with soldiers on the carpet in preschool,

they laid waste to jungles in the nylon beneath your feet. 

they aim their guns at nowhere, at no one, 

but shoot them nonetheless; they return home

unharmed, resting in the bin with their fathers and forefathers, 

asleep until blood calls them to life again

but plastic does not bleed, it only clatters against the tile 

and exhales its sins as its back chips on stone. 

you grew up on bomb pops because you hate fruit, like most children. 

bananas taste like blood, sweat, tears, and ash;

your mother cuts off the brown parts for you, bruised mushy purple, 

like blood pooling under skin. it does not bounce back like 

flesh upon the backhand- it cries mercy and collapses. 

it makes you uncomfortable. 

you will never taste a real mango, will never pluck it from a tree and 

break it open- but you dream of it, dream of the satisfaction of 

rending fruit limb from limb; of taking sweet fruit juice 

never meant for you. 

it’s not your fault; you were born into it. 

you were born into it when you 

burst forth from the fourth of july pyre, 

cut your umbilical cord with safety scissors 

and declared yourself 

an unfired bomb pop, primed for explosion.