It took long enough, but autumnal temps have finally hit Atlanta. So it’s the perfect time to take in the changing leaves and scenic views that Atlanta’s many hiking trails have to offer. The best part: these dog-friendly treks mean your pup can get in some exercise and fresh air, too.
South Peachtree Creek Trail For proof that Atlanta is the “city in a forest,” look no further than this lush Decatur trail that stretches from Mason Mill Park to Medlock Park. At just over 3.5 miles roundtrip, this paved path is great for those who want a low-impact, easily accessible hike for themselves and their pup.
East Palisades Trail This popular Sandy Springs trail takes hikers along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. The 2.5-mile trail is best for dogs (and people) that can handle rocks, a winding path, and a few hundred feet of elevation.
Powers Island Trail For a less populated Chattahoochee River trail than East Palisades, you can opt for this quieter 2.6-mile round-trip loop in Mableton. There are even kayaking and canoe rental opportunities if you’re feeling extra adventurous.
Pro tip: While the rules vary from trail to trail when it comes to leashes, I think a good rule of thumb is to keep your dog leashed. Even if your furry friend is friendly, the other dogs it passes on the trail might not be.
Vickery Creek Trail You’ll want to bring a waterproof case for your phone or camera on this trail—the photo ops here are epic. For furry friends who love chasin’ waterfalls (and owners who don’t want to drive hours outside of metro Atlanta), Vickery Creek Falls at Roswell Mill is hard to beat. The fact that there’s also a 4.7-mile trail is an added bonus.
Kennesaw Mountain’s Big Mountain Trail More athletic, agile pups will be able to handle this 2.1-mile round-trip trail in Kennesaw. For humans, expect a next-level view, water features, potential deer sightings, and nature galore—what more could you want?
Pro tip: Dogs can’t drink easily out of water bottles, so it’s a good idea to bring a small or collapsible bowl so you can both stay hydrated. It’s also wise to pack a towel to dry them off (or just clean their paws) before they hop back in the car.
Arabia Mountain Top Trail Standing on the high points of Southeast Atlanta’s Arabia Mountain gives you an otherworldly feeling, almost like you’re walking on Mars. (Admittedly, dogs probably can’t appreciate that aspect, but you will!) There’s a 1.3-mile trail you can hike, or you and your pup can just wander around admiring the seasonal flora and fauna.
Morningside Nature Preserve Two words: Dog. Beach. Just off Cheshire Bridge Road, this Morningside-area destination features a 2-mile trail, a swing bridge, and, oh yeah, a dog beach. Here, pups can frolic leash-free on the shore and in the water. And yes, it’s as heavenly as it sounds.
Pro tip: A few reports came out earlier this year of dogs mysteriously dying shortly after visiting Allatoona Lake near Cobb County, Georgia. While the Environmental Protection Division found that the toxic algae detected wasn’t at an unsafe level, they did recommend people and pets avoid going into bright green or pea soup-colored bodies of water.
Lullwater Park Trail The last time I visited this park, I stumbled into the middle of an engagement shoot—that’s how you know this place is legitimately stunning. This 2.4-mile paved trail on Emory University’s campus is an idyllic escape from Atlanta’s concrete jungle and offers you and your dog plenty of nature to take in.
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve This short 1.9-mile path in Southwest Atlanta has it all: beautiful waterfalls, expansive green space, and unique touches (such as a moss-covered historic springhouse).
Sweetwater Creek State Park Situated about 15 miles from downtown Atlanta, Sweetwater is the go-to nature park for many outdoors-loving ATLiens and their fluffy family members. Sure, it gets crowded on nice weekend afternoons, but with six color-coded trail options, you can still enjoy a nice hike, complete with historic ruins and a fast-flowing creek.
July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 space mission that landed the first two people, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the moon. Here’s where to celebrate in and around Atlanta—no spacesuit required.
Celebrate The Launch When: July 13, 7 p.m. Where: Computer Museum of America Cost: $150 Details: This event doubles as both an Apollo 11 celebration and the Roswell-based Computer Museum of America’s inaugural fundraiser. Anticipate an evening of interactive entertainment, food stations, music, and NASA astronaut Dr. Sandra Magnus—who’s spent 134 days in space—as the special guest speaker.
Moon Bar When: July 14-19, various times Where: Mother Bar + Kitchen Cost: Free for Sunday-Wednesday events; $5-$7 entry for Thursday and Friday events Details: Head to this buzzy Edgewood Avenue watering hole for a week’s worth of lunar celebrations. In honor of the moon landing’s anniversary, Mother’s upstairs will be transformed into an immersive art installation of intergalactic proportions. Events include a zine release party, karaoke night, 2000s-themed dance party, fashion show, and more.
Moon Landing Celebration When: July 20, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Where: Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Great Hall Cost: $27 for adults, $23 for children, $8 for members Details: Along with two special screenings of Apollo 11: First Steps Edition, which recounts the historic event through 70mm footage and original audio recordings, Fernbank is offering a slew of interactive activities for this anniversary. Expect to meet members of the National Association of Rocketry (a chartered club for North Georgia model rocket enthusiasts), create edible moon-phase models, peek through the museum’s solarscope and Sun Gun telescope, and create Lego rockets with a master builder.
Moon Landing 50th Anniversary StarLab When: July 20, 3-4 p.m. Where: Chattahoochee Nature Center Cost: $10 for adults, $6 for children, free for members Details: Grab the family and head to this Roswell nature center to experience the night sky in a whole new way. This special event lets visitors learn about the moon landing, moon phases, and constellations visible in the summer sky, all from CNC’s mobile planetarium.
Space Exploration Day When: July 20 Where: Children’s Museum of Atlanta Cost: $17 each for children and adults, free for members Details: In honor of National Space Exploration Day and mankind’s first walk on the moon, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta is hosting a day of interstellar fun. They’ll be offering games, interactive science experiences, art studio classes, a storytime reading of Hidden Figures: the Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, a special scavenger hunt, and a live show.
Inside Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, at the Scottish Rite neonatal intensive care unit, the sound of a mother singing the alphabet song (backed by an acoustic guitar) to her newborn baby plays from a CD player. This specialty unit cares for babies from across the state who were born prematurely or with health complications, which means that some families may be traveling here from hours away. It’s also home to Little Lullabies, a music therapy program started in spring 2018 by music therapist Hannah Ivey.
Along with David Tenenbaum, a music producer who volunteers with the program, Ivey works with parents to record personalized CDs of songs or stories that nurses can play for their tiny patients, day or night. So far, the duo has partnered with more than 25 families, allowing parents to comfort their babies, even when work or other obligations keep them away from the hospital. And because the program is funded by donors, the service is free.
Behind the Scenes
Little Lullabies connects with NICU parents through the referral of a nurse, physician, child life specialist, or physical therapist. Ivey meets with the family to explain the process and mitigate any anxiety they may have about stepping in front of the mic. Recording for each child’s unique, 15-minute CD is done in a hospital conference room–turned–temporary studio, featuring Tenenbaum’s recording equipment and sometimes Ivey on acoustic guitar.
“Things like Goodnight Moon, Guess How Much I Love You, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? are really popular” as far as reading material goes, says Ivey. Others bring religious materials from a variety of backgrounds and cultures or even poetry.
Most parents who choose to sing stick to classic nursery rhymes or lullabies. A select few, however, opt for a different tune: Elton John, Stevie Wonder, love-song classics from the ’60s and ’70s. Some even record songs they’ve written for their baby. “There was a dubstep song that we were able to slow down for more of an electronic song that the mom preferred,” she says.
LaWanda Rosenberger, whose daughter Aubree spent months in Children’s NICU after being born prematurely, recorded a handful of books and songs, including one she wrote just for Aubree. With her daughter now living at home, Rosenberger says she and her husband, Jason, continue to sing the same songs to her every single day. “Hopefully, we’ll continue singing those songs as she reaches the age of one and she can start to sing them with us,” Rosenberger says.
“I love watching babies listen to their recording for the first time,” says Ivey. “They’ll smile and turn their head towards the CD player, which is phenomenal. Older babies will smile, babble, and kick their feet, which is really sweet to watch.” Nurses say these recordings can be particularly beneficial to calm babies during a bath or after a painful procedure, such as an eye exam. “Parents are so thankful and appreciative for the opportunity,” she adds. “They tell me about how nice it is for them, when they’re at work or home, to know that their child is still being soothed and calmed by their voice.”
Photographer Heidi Geldhauser Harris has made a name for herself in Atlanta through a portfolio that features everything from interiors to impeccably lit plated dishes. With a decade of experience behind the lens, she started Silly Goose Photography in 2016, an Atlanta-based business that puts a fresh twist on typical school portraits. Her photos, which capture children and families in both their schools and homes, are meant more for displaying on a wall than tucking inside a wallet, she explains.
On December 1, Harris launched her latest venture: an offshoot of Silly Goose dubbed Heartbook. “Heartbook is a service that will collect a stack or archive of drawings and document them professionally for you,” Harris explains. “The idea is that this solves a problem parents have when gathering so many drawings from their children over time.”
Instead of filling up storage bins of children’s artwork or feeling guilty about discarding it, the pieces can be sent to Harris. She then photographs the images and compiles them into a hardcover, linen-bound photo album that’s heirloom quality and fits in perfectly with a stack of artful coffee-table books. (If you’re not ready to let go of the original work just yet, Harris will happily mail them back to you with your album and a thumb drive of digital images.)
Harris soft-launched the business in November and has already seen a positive response. She says Heartbooks were designed for parents looking for a happy medium between exhaustively cataloging their child’s creativity and documenting it in a beautiful way. “Childlike and childish are two really different things,” she adds. “Children’s art doesn’t have to look childish.”
If you’re an Atlantan who logs onto Facebook, you’ve likely come across a friend or connection sharing this post of helpful (and colorful) constitutional amendment and referenda breakdowns pertaining to the impending midterm election (particularly helpful since the language of these proposals requires approximately two decades of formal education to fully comprehend). For that, you can thank Kavi Vu and Phi Nguyen, the duo behind Wake Up Atlanta.
They founded the web series last year as a way to inspire Asian Americans in Atlanta to become more civically educated and engaged, with an aim of increasing Asian American voter turnout and informing the community about important issues and policies through fun videos and on-the-ground interviews. By day, Vu is a freelance videographer and content creator, while Nguyen works as the litigation director of the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta (also Wake Up Atlanta’s fiscal agent). Now, with Vu recently awarded as one of the 2019 class of Civic Innovation Fellows from the Center for Civic Innovation Atlanta, they’ve got even more resources to put their ideas into action.
Vu and Nguyen chatted with Atlanta magazine about their viral post, how they’re working to mobilize Asian Americans in Atlanta, and what keeps them going.
Why was Wake Up Atlanta founded? Nguyen: I was doing voter outreach and trying to engage the Asian American community. My main exposure to that initially was reaching out to people who are older, like my parents’ age or other first-generation Asian Americans. That is a markedly different sort of experience than reaching out to young Asian American voters who, I would say, are more Americanized and don’t necessarily tend to live in clusters. You can’t necessarily find them at an Asian American festival.
Once we started trying to do outreach to younger Asian American voters, I enlisted Kavi’s help because she has a lot of young AAPI friends, and I wanted to pick her brain on what would appeal to younger people and get them engaged in politics. It’s not very glamorous, and not something I think Asian Americans tend to be exposed to in their households. I don’t think that our school systems really do a good job of voter education, either.
How did you figure out what your approach would be? Nguyen: We both thought it would be good to make something that was accessible and funny and entertaining to reel people in, and then get educational. Kavi is a talented videographer. The way I pitched it, I made it sound very simple like, “Oh, we should just do videos that are funny and educational,” but it’s actually a lot more work than it might look to be.
How did the two of you meet? Vu: I do spoken-word poetry, and Phi was doing medical malpractice as a lawyer. And she reached out to me in 2015 to ask about a career in writing after she saw me doing some spoken word at an event. From there, we became friends on Facebook. I saw she was doing a lot of Asian American outreach and voter outreach. She started Vietnamese Voices, which was trying to get more Vietnamese Americans to register to vote and be engaged. We started doing some work together, like canvassing.
Nguyen: The rest is history.
Your 2018 Constitutional Amendments + Referenda Breakdowns went pretty viral in Atlanta. Where’d that idea come from? Nguyen: Part of why we chose that format is because we thought it would be really boring, quite frankly, to talk about the amendments in a video. I mean, that’s pretty dry.
Vu: This was an idea from the Center for Civic Innovation, who have been super supportive. They helped us start our first season with a $10,000 grant and encouraged us to talk with our target audience. That led to us doing a tour to talk to a thousand Asian American millennials. And what I was really getting from their feedback was that the videos were great, but sometimes they just wanted something quick and easy on their own time. Especially for something as complicated as the breakdown—there was no way for us to make it quick and easy in a video. For them to quickly be able to get that information in the graphic was important, and that’s what they told us that they would want. So we just went with that feedback.
The average ballot question in 2017 required TWENTY YEARS of formal education to comprehend. (That means it's written…
What are some other ways you’ve worked to get Asian American Atlantans more civically educated and engaged? Vu: We started as strictly a web series, and I like to think that season one did really well in increasing the engagement and turnout. For season two, we wanted to do more and add some on-the-ground efforts. We did a high school and college tour, where we visited a bunch of different places in Georgia—Athens, Emory, Georgia Tech—to talk with Asian American student organizations with mostly Asian American membership about the importance of voting. We started more conversations around the Asian American communities and what issues we face that can be affected by policies.
This was our first year doing more tangible things, like registering voters. We registered, helped register, or helped change the voter registration of about 150 people. Then, when Phi and I started talking about the amendments on the ballot and the two referendums, which I knew nothing about, we created those graphics. We’re shifting to our community’s needs and realizing that sometimes a video is not the best way, and just learning from there.
Your intro video has more than 48,000 views. How’d you get the word out? Vu: That speaks to why I think we’re qualified to do this work and why we were meant to do this work. Phi and I have both been very engaged in Asian American communities for the past few years. This is also why we chose Facebook as our first outlet—we have a good following and network on Facebook. We started sharing from there, and we saw the community reacted really well to it. And working with organizations, like CPACS (Center for Pan Asian Community Services) and Advancing Justice, that focus on Asian American communities definitely helps.
What is one of the videos you’re most proud of making? Vu: I think I’m most proud of one that is maybe our most controversial one. I think it’s our second episode ever. We had some examples of what policies have affected Asian Americans and Asian American communities or minority communities, and it got a lot of comments. A lot of people really didn’t like that. Some people would literally say, “Hey, go back to Japan,” or “If you don’t like the policies, then move to California.” That was really [impactful] to me because we weren’t even saying anything that was radical. We were just saying, “Hey, community, this is why you should pay attention.” And seeing the hate that it got really opened my eyes to how important the work is that we’re doing.
Today, we're giving you examples of laws that have negatively impacted Asian Americans. Politicies affect us yet our voices are missing at the table!! Our action item is very simple this week: Just register to vote using this link: www.tinyurl.com/wakeupandregister(If you're already registered, you don't have to register again to vote, but you should wake up a sleeping friend who isn't registered!! Municipal elections are THIS NOVEMBER, ATL. Let's hustle!)**EDIT: The last day to register to vote is October 10. SRYYYY
Nguyen: One of my favorite episodes is from this season. It’s one of our “Women on the Street” episodes. We went around town and administered a merit-based immigration test that is part of a real bill sponsored by one of our congressmen, Senator Perdue. It’s the RAISE Act, and it proposes to vastly change the structure of our current immigration system and shift it away from family-based and make it more merit-based. We actually administered this test that basically gives you merit points based on arbitrary factors, like how old you are, how much money you make, and what your level of education is. You basically needed a certain number of points to be able to qualify to even apply to come to the U.S. under that system. Almost everybody failed the test, including me and Kavi. There was only one person that we spoke to, all day, who passed it. It was a good episode because it was funny and entertaining, but it was also educational. It highlighted how exclusive the policy was. I’m proud of that one.
Since neither of us has managed to snag a Nobel Prize or Olympic Medal yet (sorry, mom), we both failed the RAISE Act’s proposed merits-based test to immigrate to the U.S (sorry, mom, again). Tune into episode 2, where we hit the streets of Atlanta to test whether our fellow ATLiens might fare any better! Then, if you’re feeling gutsy, take the quiz yourself (http://time.com/4887574/trump-raise-act-immigration/) and let us know how you scored!
What’s next for Wake Up Atlanta? Vu: We just got accepted into the Center for Civic Innovation’s fellowship program, so we will be figuring it out in the next six months. We’ll be getting a lot of mentorship, and we’ll be trying to make Wake Up Atlanta an organization as opposed to just a side project. I don’t want it to be just a web series if that’s not what our audience needs. And if they’re needing us to come and talk with them, that’s what we should do. And Phi and I, after visiting Peachtree Ridge High School and talking with teens, both thought, “Wow, we didn’t have this when we were young.” We think it’s really important, and we might expand on more on-the-ground efforts.
What keeps you going when things get tough? Nguyen: To me, outreach to the Asian American community is a thing that is really difficult and that a lot of people are trying to crack the code to. It may be that there’s not really one code to crack because we are such a diverse group of people that fall under the umbrella of “Asian American.” We’re certainly not monolithic, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all mold. That’s true with any race, but I think in particular with Asian Americans. We’re talking about so many different countries and languages and cultural differences that it really does make it a challenge.
But, in order to do it effectively, it does need to be Asian Americans at the helm. And I think we’re the only ones who have been stepping up to do it. The major political parties don’t invest time and money in doing Asian American voter education or outreach. One of the reasons why this project was born is because we saw a need for it and the need was not being met by anyone else.
Now, Jones has her sights set on the South. Amid months of book tour stops and after years immersed in New York’s publishing world, the prolific author is moving back to her hometown. She’s currently on faculty at Emory University and is slated to become an English professor in January 2019. We chatted with Jones about her rocketing career trajectory, her typewriter collection, and how it feels to be back home.
What made you embrace the “Southern writer” moniker? Being away from home made me more of a Southern writer. I realized how much the urban South is misunderstood. When I’m in New York and tell people I am from Georgia, they act like I came to Brooklyn on the Underground Railroad. They don’t understand the South is a vibrant place. They think the South is shorthand for African American misery. I always understood Atlanta to be shorthand for African American prosperity.
You said An American Marriage was more of an exploration than your previous three novels. My other novels have been in some way rooted in my autobiography—my literal autobiography, or what I would call my “emotional autobiography.” When I wrote An American Marriage, I wanted to engage the issues of today in a different way. I did research on incarceration, but I am not a historian, an iconographer, or a sociologist. I had to find the story. I decided to write about a young couple, and the husband is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. The wife, Celestial, could have grown up around the corner from me. I love writing about southwest Atlanta. I feel like it’s never written about. She’s torn between ambition and duty. And where better to have that than Atlanta?
Tell us about the moment Oprah called you to say An American Marriage was going to be her next Book Club selection. I am sure there are many pleasures being Oprah, but I think one of them is “fairy godmothering” people. I did feel like Cinderella. This glorious being appeared in my life, waved a wand, and changed it. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you publish a book. It’s like sending a letter in a bottle. You do the best you can and throw it out there. Maybe five months before the book was published, I got a mysterious call and answered it. She said, “Hi, this is Oprah. I would like to use your book for my Book Club.” As any good Southerner would do, I said, “Ma’am?” She repeated herself and said, “What do you think?” I said, “Yes, ma’am, that would be nice.”
And you’ve recently moved from New York back to Atlanta. I definitely wanted to live in the city, in the 404. As a local girl, I can’t get down with the 770. I moved to New York because publishing is [there]. I felt like if I was really going to have a chance, I needed to be near it and learn how it works. With the success of An American Marriage, the biggest gift is that I am able to go home now and not feel like I won’t be able to sustain my career. If I never see a subway again, I’ll be fine with that.
What else is on your horizon? I feel that this time next year, I will be in my house in Atlanta working on a new book. I put a new ribbon in my typewriter this morning. It felt so good to write. Because of the tour, I’ve been away from the typewriter so long that the ribbons of all six typewriters were dry. I’m looking forward to being settled in Atlanta with my roots in the ground. Writing about home from home.
You write drafts on a typewriter? Yeah! I use manual typewriters. When you’re on the computer, you can get mad, do a couple of keystrokes, highlight the whole page, and delete it. With a typewriter, you can get mad and ball a piece of paper up. Then, when you come to your senses, you can smooth it out, and you still have it.
How does it feel to be home? I missed my family and the people I’ve known all my life. One time, I was in the grocery store, and I ran into my third-grade teacher. I missed things like that. I’m glad to be back in that embrace of the city. I am glad to be home.
On a typical workday, Jenae Roseen helps make clothes for zombies—and the people who fight them. As the sole wardrobe ager/dyer for The Walking Dead, she’s tasked with taking dozens of modern-day wardrobes and rendering them post-apocalyptic. And with a roster of 30-plus principle actors and hundreds of background actors (the aforementioned zombies), she’s got her work cut out for her.
Roseen’s grandmother first taught her to sew when she was 14. From there, the Peachtree City native started altering clothes she bought in thrift stores, eventually making her way to Savannah College of Art & Design Atlanta, where she majored in fashion design and sculpture. Four years later, with a solid portfolio and just two weeks until graduation, she scored an internship with self-described “post-fetish” leather designer Zana Bayne in New York. “I sent Zana my portfolio on a whim,” Roseen says. “I knew that we were like-minded, and that I could help her and she could help me.” In just a few years, Roseen worked her way up from intern to studio manager to assistant designer, working with lots of leather and metal hardware.
After about three years spent honing her skills at Zana Bayne, Roseen felt like her NYC life had run its course. She made the move back down South in 2016 to transition into film and TV work. A costume designer mentor helped her book a gig with Adult Swim (where she was tasked with fashioning a leather codpiece for Satan), which turned into another gig, which led to stints working on beloved Netflix series Stranger Things, the Academy Award-nominated film Hidden Figures, and now, The Walking Dead.
Each season calls for a solid seven months or so of wardrobe work for Roseen (this is her second TWD season). For the upcoming season of the show, slated to finish filming in November, she and her assistant spend most of their time manually distressing clothes and collaborating with the rest of the costume department. To achieve the zombie-survivor look, they use anything from pumice stones, sandpaper, and airbrushing to serrated knives, sanding blocks, and a special brand of pigment powder Roseen refers to as “movie dirt.”
“Not only are there 30 main actors, but the level that their clothing is aged is more than any other show because it’s a post-apocalyptic society,” Roseen explains. “They’re not kids in high school. Plus everyone has to have multiples of their outfits because there’s a lot of action and they’re out in the elements, sometimes covered in blood.”
Roseen had a full-circle moment while working on the show’s ninth season, which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, October 7 on AMC. “This season takes place several years later during a time of peace,” she explains. “They’ve had time away from war, time to work on their civilizations while advancing their protection and armor.” Roseen worked to transform protective sporting gear, including shin guards and football shoulder pads, into zombie-fighting armor by reinforcing the pieces with material like leather, tires, metal. It was a task that allowed her to tap into both her academic and previous work background. “Working on the armor has been cool because some [of what we’re making] are specific pieces from the comic books,” she explains. “I’m reading comic books and making what I see—it’s been really gratifying.”
Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin affectionately refer to themselves as “podcast wives.” The moniker fits: the two met in college while both working for the University of Georgia’s The Red & Black newspaper, and from 2010 until 2016 they talked feminism, history, psychology, and more as co-hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You, a podcast, YouTube channel, and blog under the umbrella of Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks.
In late January of this year, Conger and Ervin officially launched Unladylike, a podcast under their own brand, Unladylike Media. The venture, over which they have total creative control, has already garnered buzz from the likes of Forbes and recently landed on Apple’s list of “New & Noteworthy” podcasts. In the first few episodes alone, the Atlanta-based show has Conger and Ervin interviewing a handful of guests about everything from abortion and female friendship to body positivity and self-worth.
The duo chatted with us about taking the leap to start their own company, their forthcoming book, and why it’s an exciting time to be a woman in Atlanta.
What helped you decide to venture out from HowStuffWorks to creating Unladylike Media? Caroline Ervin: I had been a contractor for HowStuffWorks forever. I had a day job and was doing the podcast with Cristen on the side. When I finally got hired full-time by HowStuffWorks in October 2014, I came in with this expectation that we would eventually take it independent, whether that would be Stuff Mom Never Told You or something completely different that we created.
Cristen Conger: At first, Caroline was the one coming in saying we could [launch our own brand], and then things progressed, I started saying, ‘You know what, Caroline? You were right!’ I went to [public radio station] WNYC’s women’s podcast conference, Werk It, in the summer of 2016. I was surrounded by all of these women who were doing it—I was seeing it in action. Having that role-modeled in front of me was the kick in the feminist pantsuit I needed to come back to Atlanta and get the ball rolling.
It was time. It was also us wanting space to explore creatively. We wanted to expand our audio sound and the way that we produced a podcast. And we wanted to be more thoughtful about the kinds of stories we were telling. We wanted to live our feminist values out loud—and that’s not a podcast pun.
How is Unladylike a departure from Stuff Mom Never Told You? Ervin: Unladylike Media is partnered with [podcast advertising network] Midroll and [internet radio platform] Stitcher. Through that partnership, we have an incredible senior producer, as well as excellent editorial feedback and advertiser support. We can also take our time with what we create. The focus is on creating better quality and more thoughtful content.
Conger: I think it makes a big difference to join up with an audio native company rather than a company that evolves to develop its own podcast model. You get to a point where you really want to focus on production, telling more stories and being more narrative in your approach. In terms of creating the podcast that we wanted to hear, a big part of that was bringing in more voices. We want other women’s stories to be a central focus for Unladylike—and not just millennial, straight, cisgender white feminists like us, but a range of women from a range of backgrounds and experiences.
Even though we hadn’t started developing Unladylike when the 2016 election went down, it was a massive wake-up call for us as privileged white women with a platform. We knew we needed to do more listening than talking, precisely because that was part of the massive failure that led up to where we are today. On the former show, we talked all the time about intersectionality and having inclusive conversations between each other. With this, the next step was actually bringing the voices to the table and letting people speak for themselves.
What are the benefits of creating and pursuing the work you do in Atlanta? Conger: I am so, so proud of making this podcast in Atlanta. And I’m glad that my younger, Carrie Bradshaw-wannabe self did not move to New York, because we need to have voices represented regionally and geographically. Even though we’re not only talking to folks who are in Atlanta, I’m excited to plant our feminist flag here, so people can identify this podcast with Atlanta. [Hopefully it can] be an example to other women that you don’t have to move to New York, L.A., or San Francisco to make a career in media for yourself.
You’ve been discussing feminism regularly for more than seven years now—how does it feel to see conversations now in the national spotlight? Ervin: It’s further evidence for me that it’s important to be loud, vocal, angry, and unapologetic. It’s okay to speak up. With Stuff Mom Never Told You, we wanted to empower listeners by arming them with information so that they could go out and make a decision for themselves. We feel the same about Unladylike. For years now, what’s guided us is wanting to help women and gender nonconforming people of all backgrounds have the knowledge to make sense of what seems like a senseless world—while also having fun and laughing a lot.
How do you deal with backlash and criticism in response to your work? Conger: Criticism is always going to be unpleasant. It’s human nature to focus on the negative things that come up, but the skill we’ve had to develop over time is to automatically filter backlash based on pure emotion and opinion versus backlash based on actual criticism and thought. Paying attention to substantive criticism and backlash is important, and it has helped us grow, expand, and improve how we present different topics. But we also stay vigilant in filtering out the noise.
Ervin: We have this unspoken relationship with the audience we’ve built—a lot of times we will get criticism but it will be so loving, and that’s such a privilege. People have been listening to us for years, and they know that we have the best of intentions. There’s a certain trust there, so people feel comfortable coming forward and saying, “Hey, I know you didn’t mean to do this,” or, “Perhaps you didn’t know this, but here’s some information,” and we’re able to take that and be very grateful for it.
Tell me about the forthcoming Unladylike book. Conger:Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space is coming out from Ten Speed Press in October and is essentially a social justice self-help book. It summarizes that overall goal to help women make sense of why their lives are the way they are. In a lot of ways, all of the media that we make is the media that we wish we had when we were younger and trying to figure out all of the social garbage imposed on women. Feminist books often will focus explicitly on your work life, love life, or on politics, but this is our acknowledgement that we can’t turn this stuff on and off. It’s always with us. Rather than being super overwhelmed by that, this is a guide through it, so hopefully you don’t have to go through as much of the sexist swamp as we did.
What makes you hopeful about the future for women and girls? Ervin: Angry women! Angry women make me so excited and hopeful for the future. I love an angry woman who speaks up and doesn’t care what other people think, or if she does, she speaks up anyway. I hate that it all has to be in the context of our political moment right now, but I love that there’s a fire under so many women and a push to listen to them and believe them right now.
Conger: As a Georgian, [2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate] Stacey Abrams makes me hopeful in that she represents women, especially women of color, in politics on the state and local level who are entering [political] races. There’s so much momentum and excitement among women in Georgia, and Abrams is leading the charge on that. I’m actually excited for the Georgia gubernatorial race. We also have [Atlanta Mayor] Keisha Lance Bottoms. It’s an exciting time to be a woman in Atlanta.
A three-dimensional swan, a lemon pepper-flavored portrait of Killer Mike, and six near-identical cookies decorated likes mermaids complete with iridescent golden seashell bras—these are just a handful of the creations Molly Brodak has whipped up in her kitchen this year. As if being a Kennesaw State University professor and successful writer (she’s penned an award-winning book of poetry and an acclaimed memoir) weren’t enough, Brodak has taken her sweet tooth to another level as a contestant on this season of ABC’s the Great American Baking Show.
Born outside of Detroit, Brodak moved to Atlanta from Augusta in 2011 after being awarded a two-year fellowship at Emory University. These days, she and her husband (writer Blake Butler) live in Ormewood Park in a backyard bustling with Polish chickens—she also chronicles her baking endeavors on her blog, Kookie House. Earlier this year, on a whim, Brodak applied to be a contestant on the stateside adaptation of the wildly popular Great British Bake Off. After a grueling process, she and nine other contestants were flown to Berkshire England this past September. Below, she talks to Atlanta magazine about baking as escapism, how it’s served her writing career, and the surreal experience of seeing yourself on TV.
What’s the first thing you remember baking? I was raised by a single mom and was alone a lot in the kitchen—I would just fend for myself. It was always a place of total freedom to me. I distinctly remember one time I took all the candy that I had in the house and threw it in a saucepan and tried to bake a candy out of all the candies that I had. It was horrible and burnt. I ruined the saucepan and my mom was really mad at me. I was never properly trained; I started baking seriously when I moved to Atlanta after I got my poetry fellowship at Emory. I didn’t know anyone, and I had a lot of time on my hands.
Was there a moment or experience that convinced you to become serious about baking? In [December] 2012, everyone was talking about how there was going to be an apocalypse. It was some fake Mayan prophecy, like the world was going to end. I made “apocalypse shortbread” or something and brought it into Emory to give to some of my colleagues. That was probably the first time I was like, “Oh, okay. I can do this.” Baking is something that people respond to positively, and it helped me connect to people. I was really shy, and it gave me a way to approach people and be friendly in a less awkward way. That was a turning point for me.
What drew you to baking over other cooking methods? I think if you are a baker you have to just love sweets. I don’t think you get into it unless you genuinely just want to eat candy all the time, which is me. I love sweets, and I just wanted to bake the thing that I had the craving for. That was a big part of it, but also, it just seems more joyful than regular cooking.
There was something so serious and off-putting about the whole chef and kitchen culture that seemed kind of aggressive and male-dominated and ego-driven, whereas baking seemed to be fun and lighter. I was more drawn to that tone. I worked in kitchens when I was younger—my first job ever was working in sort of a fancy restaurant, doing prep. I liked the fact that at the end of the meal you would bring something out that was sweet and meant to make you happy. It wasn’t there to fill your stomach. That seemed nice to me, like less pressure.
You’re a self-taught baker. How do you master new techniques for your creations? The internet is something that is unprecedented in how you can use it to teach yourself things. I would watch a lot of YouTube tutorials on how sculpted cakes were made or how people worked with fondant or made gum paste flowers. You just experiment and try to figure it out.
I spend a lot of time thinking, “What if I did this,” and in between classes in my office I would sketch things out or just visualize it. I made a cake that’s shaped like a swan. I actually brought a version of that cake to my audition for [The Great American Baking Show]. I remember looking at it at one point objectively when they were taking pictures of it like, “Wow.” There was no swan cake tutorial. I pictured what I wanted and I made it. It was cool going to the auditions for the show because it shined a light on what I was doing in my kitchen privately and made me feel like I had something there. That was such an encouraging thing.
How did you come to audition for the Great American Baking Show? I have a friend who works in the film industry, and she mentioned on Facebook that the auditions were open. I always watched the show, and I thought, “I could do that.” I filled out this online form very quickly, not thinking too much about it or taking it that seriously. The audition process was really long and there were a lot of rounds. After the form, I did a Skype interview, and then they had auditions in Atlanta at a hotel with hundreds of people. From there they did auditions in New York City where they flew out 20 or so people, and we had to bake on camera in this kitchen. Then they narrowed down to the final 10. The process was like three or four months long.
What did the live auditions entail? We had to bring a baked good to the audition in Atlanta—it could be anything you wanted. I brought the swan cake. You had to bring things that showed range. I brought the swan cake and then I brought palmier cookies that showed how I can do a classical French puff pastry. For the third thing, they gave everybody the same bread recipe. You had to come with this bread, and everyone was judged across the board on their bread. For the New York audition, you had to bring cookies. I had to fly with these cookies sitting on my lap, and they had to be identically decorated. I made these mermaid cookies and they all broke by the time I got to New York City, but I guess it wasn’t a big deal because they cast me anyway.
Are you a fan of The Great British Bake Off? Oh, definitely. I was obsessed with it, it’s such a great show. The American version gets compared to the British version a lot, which I understand. The one thing I didn’t understand about the comparisons was that the contestants on the British show were baking and then going home for the week. We were in a foreign country [the Great American Baking Show is filmed in the UK] with all this different equipment, different ingredients, and we baked on a really tight schedule. We would film one episode over two days, have a day off, and then start again. We were all tired and stressed out and not as comfortable on the show.
It’s just a different experience. The butter is different and the flour is different and we weren’t allowed to have the flour we wanted. I didn’t know what a difference it would make to have different flour or to use a convection oven, which I’d never used before. It was disorienting in many ways. Baking is so much about precision, so that was stressful.
Patience seems to be a huge part of baking. Do you consider yourself inherently patient? Absolutely. I think the number-one quality you have to have as a baker is patience. I think I was born pretty patient. Paired with patience, something that you develop more is humility. You have to obey your ingredients. You have to do what the butter wants. You can’t control it in a way that you think you can. You have to put your own ego below your materials. If you mess up you have to be humble enough to start over. That’s something I developed as I baked more and more. It does take a long time to make these things. I’ll test a recipe dozens of times before I’m happy with it, and that’s something that definitely takes patience.
You’ve been quoted as saying baking is “a loss of self” for you—what does that mean? As a writer, I think so much writing is about mining your experiences or letting your ego do what it wants. It’s writing about your consciousness and your subjective interaction with the world, and baking for me is such a complete 180 from that. I really need that balance, and I don’t know how other writers do it. Maybe they do woodworking or something. You need to be able to forget about your ego and yourself for a while, and that’s what baking does for me. I’m totally focused on the cake or the thing that I’m making, and I’m not thinking about who I am or my story. That’s part of why I like doing both. I don’t think I could just quit writing and open a bakery or vice versa. I think I really need that balance of both. They make me sane.
What’s next for you as both an accomplished writer and baker, I bet you have a fantastic cookbook in you. I definitely want to do a cookbook someday. I think I need a lot more time for that though, because it just takes such a long time to develop recipes I’m happy with. I would say that’s years out, but that is for sure going to happen some day. In the short term, I’m going to Poland this summer to write another nonfiction book that’s kind of a followup to my memoir [Bandit]. I’m going to reconnect with my roots and write about some of the stuff that’s going on over there regarding race and the far right. I am super excited about that.
The show is airing now—is watching it a surreal experience for you? Now that I’m watching it I still can’t believe that I got on the show. It still just feels like a complete dream. I don’t know when the point comes when I accept [that it actually happened]. It was crazy to be in that tent, the same tent where they film The Great British Bake Off. It was like walking around in a dream.
Vanessa Toro launched her clothing brand, Rabble & Rouse, in 2015 with the tagline “Give all the damns.” Her T-shirts make bold statements with phrases like “Be vigilant, not afraid” and “All we have is each other.” Toro herself is regularly stopped on the street for her jet-black pixie cut, signature red lip, and flair for pairing colors and prints. “Even when I try to blend in, it doesn’t work,” she says. “So I just own the fact that I have a look.”
Shop around I go thrifting OTP. The Goodwill in Roswell has been good to me. There is a little boutique in my neighborhood called Bridge Boutique where the owner always knows what looks good on me.
Face first I have a routine, but it’s very simple: tinted moisturizer, mascara, and a red lip. I am all about a red lip. I feel naked without one.
Signature style Audrey Hepburn meets The Nanny’s Fran Drescher
Outfit inspiration It’s definitely based on that day’s mood. I attempt to articulate something; it’s not uncommon in the dead of winter that I wear a lot of yellow because I don’t want to get the winter blues.
Recent purchase A collar pin I got from Sad Truth Supply. It has little art deco hands with heart tattoos on them. There’s something macabre and Gothic about it, but at the same time precious and delicate.
Good vibes Rabble & Rouse donates a portion of their profits to a rotating list of Atlanta community organizations. rabbleandrouse.com