Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: January, 2021

Kolokythopita Adventures

After watching “Trying Dishes You Wish Other People Knew About”, I decided to try making the butternut squash version of the kolokythopita. The main reason why I made that decision was because I had a butternut squash sitting around and if I wasn’t doing anything else with it, I would just stick it into the oven to bake. What I ended up doing was mostly following this recipe for a Greek savory pumpkin pie, except I substituted the pumpkin with the butternut squash. All the other ingredients were identical.

One other major difference that I made was in the preparation of the main ingredient. At first, I tried grating the butternut squash, but after doing one piece, I realized it would take me forever plus a lot of elbow grease. And frankly, I don’t have that much time or energy. I tried pureeing it in a blender next, but since I don’t own any industrial grade kitchen appliances, the blender didn’t work very well. What I ended up doing was just cooking the cubed butternut squash in a pot until it was softened and then mashing it like mashed potatoes.

So how did it go? It actually turned out way better than I thought it would. For a glorified fruit pie (squash is technically fruit), it smells wonderfully savory and it’s delicious. I wouldn’t hesitate to make this again–maybe even for a potluck where there are vegetarians attending (although I may have to substitute the egg with a vegetarian-friendly binder). Next time, I’ll actually try the zucchini version.

Comfort Gaming

These days, people talk a lot about comfort reading–diving back into known stories as a self-soothing activity during hard times. So I’m kind of surprised that people don’t also talk about “comfort gaming” which also seems to be quite popular with everyone still stuck inside. But perhaps there is an equivalent term in gaming that is being used but I’m not aware of. I don’t do games in the traditional video gaming sense. I prefer to play games that are a little more cerebral than mechanical. I’m not particularly interested in shooting games or games that depend on my dexterity with the controls. Puzzles are more my jam.

One series of games that I keep going back to are the Submachine games. This series was originally made by Mateusz Skutnik on the now defunct Flash platform. Objectively, there isn’t anything particularly comforting about these games–they’re variations of the escape room trope, you’re alone with the “submachines”, the storyline is mysterious, and the accompanying soundtracks are unsettling. But somehow I find them comforting even though it’s a weird, hand drawn fictional world. Maybe it’s because the puzzles are now familiar to me, they’re solved and not dangling off into the unknown.

Postcard Set Review #8: Grandma’s Dead by Amanda McCall & Ben Schwartz

I found this book of postcards on the bargain shelf of a bookstore in Washington state for $4. It was a book of postcards with cute baby animals in it and it was cheap so of course I bought it. Unfortunately, a closer reading of the captions revealed that some of these “jokes” were more mean than funny, too adult, and on occasion outright offensive. This was published back in 2008, so you can see that in just ten years, the humor has already become somewhat dated.

As physical postcards, these were annoying. There was a printed dotted line for each postcard showing where they should be detached, but there was no perforation–I had to actually cut them out. The paper these were printed on was too glossy. Regular ball point pens could not write on them–the paper only made indentations where I tried to write because the ink couldn’t stick to it. Ink from gel pens beaded up and smeared. The only type of pen that even remotely worked was a sharpie.

I think this postcard book should just have been retitled as “Postcards from Hell”.

A Brief Thought on Lights

I recently read this post on dimming one’s own light. I would have to say that I know a lot of people like this–that with any sign of criticism or implication that they’re not good enough, they fall apart. There are probably people with more traditional mindsets out there who would say that these people are acting like special snowflakes, they’re too sensitive, they need to toughen up. There’s criticism everywhere and you just need to deal with it. But there are way too many of these so-called sensitive people out there, including those people who keep calling for others to toughen up. Because if these “tough” folks get called on their BS, they crumple like a house of cards and begin throwing tantrums that are even worse than a two-year-old.

In reality, most people’s bailiwick is not toughening up or being resilient. They thrive better with positive reinforcement and kindness. But unfortunately, that’s not how current society works, especially when selfishness is rewarded and you get to score points if you’re able to poke holes in other people’s work instead of suggesting improvements. As for solutions? I have no idea. I’m not a psychologist or therapist. I wouldn’t know the first steps in changing people’s behaviors. All I can do is keep on trying to be the best that I can be and refuse to punch down.

Learning New Tricks

Is it really too late to learn new skills? Well, the short answer is no. Learning is not the provenance of the young. And the old certainly shouldn’t be smug about supposedly knowing everything. There’s more knowledge out there than any one person can learn in their lifetimes and if anyone claims that they know everything, they’re lying, delusional, or both.

As I march towards middle age (and some might even argue that I’m there already), I do wonder if I could ever do anything significant. It’s not that I’m afraid of learning anything new–it’s just that I have this practical view that I’m a fairly ordinary person–I am probably worth less than beans in the whole scheme of things. It’s been drummed into me since a young age that there will always be someone out there who is better at you at any given ability.

I know during this time when everyone’s stuck at home with supposedly more time to spend on learning new things that it’s, well, expected that you learn new things. Or at least try to. Otherwise, you might be labeled as a lazy bum. For me, though, it’s more like trying to do things I’ve been putting off before–like reading books or writing stories or getting sleep. Does this make me more of a lazy bum than someone trying to learn Swahili? I hope not.

Postcard Set Review #7: Have a Little Pun – 30 Postcards by Frida Clements

I think what caught my eye first about Have a Little Pun are the whimsical illustrations rather than the puns. I thought they were quite fun and they would be perfect to send to people who have a whimsical sense of humor, like puns, and like illustrations. I would not send these to “serious” postcard collectors because not only are they not of “collectible” subjects (i.e. tourist postcards, trains, vintage, etc.) and these are oversized postcards.

In terms of the quality of the postcards, I would say it’s pretty high. The cardstock is very sturdy and is typical of the publisher (Chronicle Books) which is also known for publishing many well known postcard boxes including all of the Disney ones. Unlike some other postcard books, each postcard can easily be removed without any perforations since this is held together with padding glue.

Postcard Set Review #6: Animal Box by 10 Artists

I will admit that I bought several boxes of the Animal Box postcards when they were on sale on Amazon for $4. I think the collection itself would still be worth it around ~$10, but I wouldn’t pay more for them. There are some really nice cards in the set, but others are a miss. And this very much depends on the artist and not the subject matter.

The box itself is helpfully divided by artist with yellow tabs. There are ten artists featured in the box. I only have issues with three of them–mostly because their artistic styles are not really to my taste and I find it hard to send them to people because the quality of the art isn’t something that I would want to “gift” to anyone unless I know that the recipient actually likes that type of art. Specifically, postcards by Sirichai Tachoprasert are probably the least worst of the lot–the style is very minimalist and geometric. If I wanted to commission someone to draw a spherical cow, this artist would be it. I’m also not particularly a fan of Happy Menocal’s work which looks like messy watercolors to me. My least favorite of the entire collection are the postcards by Adrien Vermont because  it looks like a five-year-old tried to draw animals. I know it’s a very specific art style, but let’s face it. Most people don’t  appreciate modern art and genuinely dismiss anything that does look like a five-year-old drew it. So it’s nearly impossible for me to find someone to send these to.

But that said, I will say that my favorite artist of the bunch is Ben Giles. I think what I like about his style is that he has taken the best of the collage technique and infused a sort of fairy tale ambience around the animal subjects. If there was a postcard box or postcard book of just his stuff, I would definitely snap that up.

Rinse and Repeat: Slapfights in Fiction

If any of you have taken a recent look into the literary part of social media, you would have noticed that yet again, people are up in arms about some literary fiction writer trash talking fanfiction and everyone else who has ever written fanfiction trying to defend its literary merits. For me, it’s sort of a facepalm thing–I’ve seen all these arguments before and I’m betting that the person who set all this off was just another young literary writer trying to establish that they are better than everyone else so they decided to punch down at something that is more popular.

I’m honestly annoyed and tired with hot shot writers trying to take pot shots at other genres of fiction that they deem inferior. It happens over and over and over again and bluntly, I’m calling bullshit on all of it. Genre does not dictate quality. Writing ability determines quality. I think some people just need to realize that their arguments for literary quality actually boil down to two things: elitism and money.

The core of elitism and snobbery in literature assumes that certain stories are worth more than others. They assume that tragedies are better than comedies, stories with moral lessons are better for your soul than stories for entertainment, literary fiction is more serious than genre. I find these assumptions absolutely odious because it implies that not everyone’s  voice is equal. Telling people not to write is the literary equivalent of telling people to shut up. Maybe you might not connect with someone’s story, but you don’t have to read it. However, this also doesn’t give you the right to tell people not to write their stories.

I also think it’s a matter of money. Many people write stories, but only a few of them will sell enough books to make “being a writer” a full time job. When some struggling writers see writers of other genres being successful, there’s the urge to try to tear them down in order to make themselves seem better. Unfortunately, there’s still this notion (especially in the west) that you should do work for the love of it. If you’re doing it for the money, you’ve sold out. (I see this in many fields, including my own. There is still this stigma that if you’re a scientist and go into industry instead of staying in academia, you’ve “gone to the dark side.”) But the reality is, everyone needs to make money somehow. That’s how our society works. The food on the table and the roof over your head aren’t going to magically appear just because you want them. And if a writer is able to commercialize their talent so they don’t have to live in a box, then congratulations to them. 

Related to money is competition. Obviously, there are only a finite number of publishing houses in existence and they only have a finite number of slots to publish books per year. On the other hand, I would argue that different genres are not competing for the same slots. If you’re aiming to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tor or Harlequin will not publish you no matter how well you write. And even if you think your genre is too overcrowded with traditional publishing, you can always go the self publishing route. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse for not getting your story out there if you think it should be read by people. Of course, the readers only have a finite budget to buy books–but that’s something that no writer can control.

Anyways, my main point is that writers complaining about other genres should stop wasting their time complaining and go back to writing their own books and trying to make them as best as they can be. It’s silly wasting time arguing about how good you are and how bad others are instead of actually doing the work to show how good your books are without burning your bridges with other writers.

Reading Is Not “Normal”

So, I recently came across this AITA post from a mother who thinks her 22-year-old daughter is reading too much and that she should quit reading and concentrate on her studies and get a better job. Aside from the weirdness of such a parent posting on Reddit and complaining about her adult child who could make her own decisions already (if it’s a helicopter parent or tiger parent, why the heck would they waste their time on Reddit unless it’s someone trolling everyone for the clicks), it does make me wonder why so many parents out there have some stereotypical idea of a successful child who will study and have “acceptable” hobbies that always involve some form of socializing. 

Reading a lot for pleasure, strangely enough, is still considered deviant. Why is it considered normal to not read books? The average person hardly even reads one book a year, let alone several. For a lot of regular jobs, you don’t need to read any books if all you care about is the money. And, some would say that the obvious anti-intellectual streak in society is also a strong contributor to this disdain with books. To me, being stuck in one place with no food for the mind seems like a poor way to live. Books have so many advantages–it opens up the world, presents new ideas, stimulates creativity, and builds empathy as you read the words that come from someone else’s mind.

I think my parents definitely worried that I was reading too much when I was younger and that I needed to socialize more. Well, I guess I could have socialized more, but I didn’t like it. I’m an introvert through and through and even now, I’d prefer not to talk with anyone. Then again, even though my parents had said that I was reading too much, they didn’t really do anything to curb my reading, either. I always got to max out my library card and check out whatever I wanted–no limits.

The purpose of that digression is just to say that I’ve read a lot and I don’t think it has messed me up. (Unless you’re one of Those Parents who think kids are only successful if they are medical doctors, engineers, or lawyers–in that case I’m an utter failure.) Even though my current life is as far away from the house with the white picket fence, spouse, 2.5 kids, and a dog as it can get, I’m doing all right considering all the crazy in the world right now. And there are even people who call me normal. I’m not quite sure about that, though. Normality is relative.

The Avocado Toast of Planners

I recently saw someone on Twitter post that they were doing a “passion planner”. My first thought was, “Seriously, what kind of crap is this now? Is it just another fancy name for a bullet journal?” Well, it turns out no, it’s not exactly like a bullet journal. And while I find bullet journals too tedious for the likes of me–at least it’s flexible and people can actually be creative with it. Passion planners, on the other hand, goes the other extreme in focus and is probably even more tedious.

So what is a passion planner? Apparently it’s a planner where you set goals. There will be a yearly calendar where you write down your annual goals. Then a monthly calendar where you write down your monthly goals. And then a daily calendar to write down your daily goals. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it’s too much different than a to do list. But a to do list is about recording what you need to get done. Writing goals in a passion planner means that you’re going to accomplish things and be ambitious. There’s nothing wrong about accomplishing things or being ambitious, but this passion planner implies that you need to emotionally invest in this special to do list. It’s not only about accomplishing these things to become your true self but to be your best self. But is that best self an objective thing or is it just shaped by an artificial to do list dictated by what society thinks is success?

What this reminds me of is project planning which is just a morass of spreadsheets anyway. I don’t really understand why project managers love this stuff. Why do they get so worked up trying to get people to finish projects? Sometimes projects can go down strange paths because the world is more complex than the coding making up the spreadsheet. If there’s something I need to do, I do it. If I need to prioritize different projects, then I do the necessary organization. Sometimes things get messy and I have to tackle things at a different angle. But I certainly don’t call this “passion planning”.

I guess what I really object to is the terminology. I don’t really find this kind of thing a passion. My personal interpretation of “passion” is an intense emotional urge, akin to obsession. I’m sure there are people out there who go orgasmic over planners and this passion planner thing is perfect for them. But while I do have my own goals and ambitions, how I feel about those things is closer to cool calculation than burning desire.