Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Feeding on Words: May the Odds be EVER in your Favor

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

From Amazon: Book Description

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

My take on the story:

When I first saw this book, I didn’t even mind it. I was used to hearing about great reads but I tend to avoid going with the trend. When Christmas time came, I decided that it would be a great gift, especially having a 3-in-1 set of books so I didn’t need to wait until I could proceed with the next book. Now that I’ve got all three, I realize what a loser I must have been for not taking the trend seriously. Here’s what I think about The Hunger Games, book 1 of the trilogy.

I knew that it was a young adult novel, yet so many of my older friends seemed to be captivated by the book. When I went to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, some sessions kept repeating the wonderful achievement that this book imparted on all writers and readers. They said that it is a great example of young adult fiction that deals with more than relationships but the natural instinct to survive. It tackles issues of war and alliances, of truth and trust and of what true victory may mean. To all these descriptions, I say YES.

Redeeming the thrill of reading.

I’ve spent a couple of months reading older type novels and I seem to have forgotten that reading is also supposed to give you excitement. When I started the Hunger Games, I was a little uneasy because the fonts were bigger, like reading Sweet Valley or Brida in the bigger format. So I conditioned myself that this was written for 12-18 year olds. Right then I was transported into a world that verges on reality. I no longer thought of stopping and switching to another book. I kept on turning the page because that's what the book requires of you. The story itself wants you to keep moving forward, to push further into the lives of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark and all the people in between. The pacing of the story is amazing with just the right slow moments to let you catch your breath for a while. The scene descriptions were also distinct yet not too specific that you had to rearrange the rooms you’ve already imagined in your head. The book wants you to swallow it hard and move on to the next troubling issues the protagonists face. For a reader whose last exciting book had been The Dopple Ganger Chronicles: The Mystery of the Indigo Moon, The Hunger Games had definitely pulled me into seeking more books like it.

Object observations.

As I have already mentioned, the scene descriptions had been written in a way that readers don’t have to research what items actually existed in the rooms. It has general descriptions with bits and pieces of specific items that would make the terrain more realistic in our imaginations. Using the first person voice also contributed to focusing on what Katniss was thinking. It focused the readers to think how Katniss thought and to feel what Katniss felt. Having it any other way might not have been as effective. The historical timeline and the way it has been explained also proved to be very detailed and well-planned. Though scattered in areas around the book, readers will be able to piece together what really happened in the history of Panem.  What also intrigues me in the story is the way Collins pulls you into the past to talk about Katniss’ experiences and then quickly brings you back to the present. Sometimes, I tend to forget that I’m reading about an experience Katniss is reliving until the voice turns to present tense and I have to look back a few paragraphs to check where the transition was.

Collins did a wonderful job in creating a sense of place and a sense of community. The people in each district were given characteristics unique in each person and place. It highlighted their strengths and their personalities which made the story more interesting.

Questions and lessons:
  1. In a game that requires one to murder so that only one can win, is it really still possible to trust anyone? Did the alliances of the Career Tributes and Katniss and Rue’s prove to be useful?
  2.  “Cross the bridge when you get there” goes the popular saying. In the story, Katniss had to decide what she would do to Peeta if ever they find themselves face to face. It would be difficult to kill the boy with the bread, the one who helped her find hope but it would also be difficult to let him kill you. At that point in time, what would you have done?
  3. Peeta acts as if he’s in love with Katniss and she does the same. How could Katniss not know if Peeta was actually being honest with his feelings? How would Katniss fare if she believed him? (Personally I was figuring out why Katniss still hasn’t gotten it, especially when Haymitch said “he’s already there”.)
  4. What if you had a mother like Katniss and Prim’s? Someone who would leave in the sense that she just sits there and waits to die. Would you also have the strength to do everything for your family to survive? Would you still be able to forgive her?
  5. Madge gave Katniss the mockingjay pin. Where did she get it from and what was the importance of it? (Okay, so the answer to this can be read in Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy)

Basically, the book was wonderful and thrilling and suspenseful. Even though many readers would classify it as violent, I really didn’t see it that way. I saw it as bright and hopeful and challenging.  Actually, throughout reading the whole book, the pictures in my head were in sepia or vintage brown whereas the colors in the movie were in blues and grays and I realize that the story was supposed to be dark and dim and steel-like in atmospheres. This shows that every reader has a different idea of what the book is actually saying.

All in all, I love the book. I love the way it talks about life and survival and all the tips it gave me. I love the characters and how each of them tried to work things out on their own. I love the mystery and even the vanity of the Capitol people. It was refreshing to finally get my hands on something that deals more than love and relationships. It dealt more on humanity and how you can choose to live your life even when you seem to be under the authority of those who have power.

Starting to read Catching Fire. =)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fashion Confined: Kryz Uy's Big Birthday Blowout

Picture taken from kryzuy.com
Okay, I know I've been surfing a lot of fashion blogs lately and it's probably time that I actually acknowledge another one.

Kryz Uy is an amazing stylist, fashionista, entrepreneur, Filipina from the wonderful world of CEBU City! She has her own store, What A Girl Wants, which sells the most amazing clothes although I haven't bought any from that store yet. (saving for some great finds when I get to CDO) I actually didn't know WAGW was hers until I started visiting and revisiting her blog over and over just to look at her fashion photos. Her style is awesome and her shoes are absolutely adorable. From reading her posts, I think that she's a really fun girl who lives life to the fullest in her own way. She also does modelling and has been featured in a lot of fashion magazines and even advertisements.

Anyway, she just had her birthday and she's throwing the third leg of her birthday blowout until January 25. If you love fashion and want to know her style, and possibly win one of her awesomely chic freebies, then visit her blog NOW!

Kryzzzie, if you ever find yourself reading this post, thanks for the inspiration. I know I probably won't get the chance to wear a lot of the styles you post but you make me want to try to look like a girl (because I actually really am =). Have a great day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kitchen Casualties: The Flan's the Plan

I love leche flan. Though I’m not exactly sure what it’s called in English (probably custard cake or something), I would love to taste other versions of this delicious pastry.

When I was still in Cagayan de Oro, I had a semi-kitchen all to myself and without anyone to look over my shoulder and laugh at what I was doing I took the opportunity to experiment on one of my favorite foods of all time.

Here are the ingredients:

1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
4 eggs

That’s basically it. Proportion your condensed and evaporated milk accordingly: if your condensed is 300ml then evaporated milk should be the next size (I forgot how many ml it is). You can put as many as eight eggs in the flan, I think.

Anyway, with all these ingredients, the first thing to be done would be to pour all of them in a container for mixing.

Here I used rice cooker for a mixing bowl because I don’t have the kitchen utensils needed for such a spontaneous task. And I lived in a boarding house with an indefinite duration of residency. So this is going back to basic kitchen wares and making good use of all of them.

Anyway, after everything’s in the bowl, you just mix it. Now I know mixing can be faster with that electric mixer thing but remember that we don’t want air to get into our concoction and make it fluffy and full of holes. We want the mixture to be smooth and perfect (whatever perfect entails). Mixing is actually fun, especially if you keep in mind that you want to kill or dissolve the egg whites completely. Some people prefer to remove the egg whites and I guess that will make the flan smoother and fuller but as I said, this is an experiment. So on and on the spoon or fork goes, round and round the mixing bowl. You can imagine the number of things you can think of doing while mixing the ingredients. You can sing, although it’s not a very good idea if you don’t plan on serving saliva encrusted flans. You can also think about that weird friend of yours and how funny they’ve been when they discovered that you were actually planning to cook something other than hotdog. Also, you can think of writing down everything that you’ve been thinking about while mixing, which is basically what I’m doing. This would have been a very different post if I had found the discipline to write down my thoughts right after I finished my project but, you know, I’m a procrastinator.

So enough of that and let’s look at what we have done so far.

Okay, so as we all can see, there are splotches of weird looking blobs in the mixture. Those are probably egg whites and some yolks. We’ll need to keep stirring until they eventually dissolve or disappear or whichever comes first. Some people sift the mixture to get rid of the whites. They cause holes in the flan and holes mean the flan isn’t smooth and people are going to be disappointed. Oh well.

So, now that we have them in containers we can actually start the cooking process. I used small microwavable platters to store the mixture since I'm going to use the rice cooker as a steamer later on. Like I said, low on the kitchen paraphernalia equals reusable items. Your mixture should be smooth but if it isn't...oh well. 

Also, the proportion in the ingredients list will make up 4 servings of leche flan if you use the same containers I have. 

Tada! On to the steamer! Now, the trick here is to fill up the rice cooker with water until it's half full. That will give you the steam you need until it's fully cooked. If you put a smaller amount of water, you're going to have problems because water evaporates and you'll end up burning the rice cooker. Sniff. Anyway, there's no need to preheat as we commonly do with ovens. Just place the mixture on the steamer and close the lid.

I transferred the leche flan mix into another bowl because I didn't realize the microwavable containers could actually survive being steamed. Hehe. Oh well.

This usually takes about 30 minutes so you can read a book, draw some rabbits or even watch a movie while you wait. Just don't forget to check it once in a while. I could have actually written down this post while waiting but I was too caught up listening to myself think that I forgot to write all my thoughts down. 

Ting! 30 minutes is up! There will be bubbles because of the heat and I don't exactly know if that's normal but I'm just giving you my observation. You can use a toothpick to check if the flan's inner parts are cooked. There shouldn't be anything sticking to the toothpick when you puncture the flan. I used floss, you know, the ones that have toothpicks on the other end. This is just being innovative, even if I do say so myself.

Now, the next picture can look very graphic. For a first try, the product doesn't seem to agree with my methods. There were holes and craters and well, see for yourself.

I covered up the large piece missing with the container picture. Hehe. Doesn't that look scrumptuous? Yum!

Some parts got stuck in the bowl because I didn't have a spatula or even a bread knife to scrape it cleanly off. So the parts in the bowl got eaten by moi and the flan I got to transfer in a tupperware for critic purposes effectively concealed the missing parts.

Here's what my critics had to say:

"Yummy. Good job." - I'm not sure if this is exactly what she meant but she was smiling and hmm she ate it all up in the end.
"Smooth and..." - Really, I don't think this is what my dad said but it's close enough.
"Too sweet." - Hmm, well sweetness is subjective.
"You can live off of this." - I think I said that to myself because this recipe adds to my short list of food I can actually cook.

So anyway, leche flan is a delicious custard cake that I soooo love. I've also tried cooking it in an oven and I'll be posting that in about a month so everyone can forget about this first flan.

I hope the recipe helped anyone. It's really pretty easy and you can search online for other ways to cook it. I just did what I did so I could get rid of the eggs living in my refrigerator. Happy experimenting!

She Explains: The Beauty of Music

(okay, I tried uploading a video or linking it to youtube but these things just don't work well with me)
(you can play this while reading, like what I did when I was writing it)

At this very moment, I am listening to Hans Zimmer’s magnificent piece ‘Psychological  Recovery…6 months’ from his Sherlock Holmes soundtrack. I am in awe of his artistic capabilities and how he makes music to sound so captivating. His music tells stories without words. The excitement, the exhilaration of his pieces makes me want to make my own adventures. This is beauty.

Music is beauty. It is, in my opinion, for those who prefer not to be distracted by physical appearances. It is for those who can appreciate each note, each instrument that comes in contact with a person’s ears. It is for those who think it worthy to take time and actually listen to what’s going on. Music, especially those without lyrics, tells the listeners different stories every time. It creates different emotions, different imaginations depending on the one involved in the process of appreciating it. Music is beauty.

In a world where the music industry has been swallowed up by greed and nonsense, I’m more inclined to listen to soundtracks of movies that are mostly instrumental. Orchestral music, as some may oppose, is not at all boring. Orchestral music made for movies is definitely not boring. It is one of the master pieces of the human talent, talents given by the First and True Musician of the world. This is what the professionals should consider. This is what audiences from around the world should realize. Our ears were not made to listen to songs that incite sex and violence. Our ears were not made to listen to useless nonsense that unconsciously provokes us and especially the young people to do things they shouldn’t do. Our ears were made to hear beauty. Yes, beauty can also be heard and it is in this sense that beauty is definitely in the ears of the hearer. 

It is subjective but it is beauty nonetheless.

Dear music industry, you are responsible for what we listen to on the radio. You are responsible for the recording artists and the songs that they sell. It should be in your hands that songs of immoral backgrounds should die on. It should be in your hands that these songs should cease to exist. Whatever happened to the songs of old, when love was not the object of materialism and lust? Songs of old that went deeper into the souls of listeners and are now considered classics are ones that actually make sense. These songs last lifetimes because they actually mean something. This is the type of music that you should be selling. Stop the world from falling into the bottomless pit of despair and heartbrokenness. Bring hope back through music.

Creativity doesn’t have limits. Musicians should not limit themselves into what sells but should push themselves into what the people should be hearing. Even if audiences seem to be critical of change, at some point they will give in to your music and soon enough we will all be convinced that hopeful music, music that feeds the soul, that incites creativity in ourselves, is the kind of music that should be playing all year round.
Ever wonder why there’s a kind of nostalgic feeling every time we hear Christmas songs playing? It sort of pulls us into the giving and receiving spirit and makes us all happy. Valentines love songs also make us all gooey. Then why do we have to listen to songs that tell us to take our clothes off? Why should we have to listen to songs that tell us to burn our house down? Why not listen to songs that make us want to make peace and do something productive with our lives? Why not start now?

Music is beauty and as I hear the closing notes of Hans Zimmer’s master piece, I know that if there weren’t any more lyrical music left in this world, I would be perfectly satisfied with listening to the drums and the violins battling it all out in a tune that will resonate in my soul forever.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Feeding on Words: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Description from Amazon.com:

"Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots.Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped."

My take on the story:

Bel Canto is one of those stories where you think you know what's going on but you just don't get it until you read it. It takes a semi-slow pace from Chapter 1 until the last few chapters then suddenly fast forwards into the story leaving you breathless and shocked that you just finished the book. I love how Patchett builds up relationships in the story even though their circumstances seem hopeless. The details on the house where her characters were taken hostage gives more ambiance to the story and for the hours you read the book, you'll actually feel that you're in one of the rooms, trapped until something actually happens. 

The love stories are also beautiful although I still don't understand what exactly happened at the very end of the book. I won't say who ended up with whom but it seemed, well, weird but real. I guess only if you think about all they've been through and how life would be when they all moved on, I guess that's the only time you can see the relevance of what they did. The progress of the relationships seemed to revolve around tension and made it more delightful and dangerous for both parties.

The singing and the opera also made me want to research on all those pieces. I have never seen or heard opera on stage but for a person who loves performing, I bet I'd love to sit and watch the actors tell their stories through song. That's exactly what Roxanne did for the hostages and it made life much more bearable for everyone. Music truly calms the soul and keeps peace. It directs people from being hopeless to feeling like they matter. 

What made me love the story all the more is that it isn't a usual hostage-taking story where everyone runs and the bad guys die. True, many will die in the story but they were not the ones you wanted to be killed in a military encounter. Patchett will draw you into the lives of her characters and make you like them or hate them but nevertheless you'll know them. That makes you empathize with everything that they feel and do and makes you want to stop the shooting at the very end. You'd want to stop reading and finish that scene at the same time. You'd want to scream "you're killing the wrong people!" and know that there's no use in that. Like in any book, the characters will be at the mercy of their author.

Bel Canto is a thumbs up read that anyone who loves action, romance and even politics should read. See that even though I've read it last year, I can still remember the heartbreaking moments when I should have stopped reading just to keep some characters alive. That's how beautiful the story is.

Fashion Confined: Treading New Waters

Let's try out something new. I know I said I'd be a girl (or at least girly) this year so I'm going to start posting about bloggers who have absolutely cool fashion sense (and the ability to use that sense for a living).

First up is Tricia Gosingtian's blog: Tricia Will Go Places

I found her blog while reading Candy's Fashion something something (see I can't even remember fashion magazine titles) and realized that it's time to browse sites that doesn't involve first person shooter games or downloadable movies. She has really amazing clothes and goes to all those places any girl would want to go. She's also a photographer which still makes me wonder if she takes pictures of herself with a tripod and self-timer when she posts her looks. I find it so hard to take pictures of myself with or without a photographer friend (which is probably why all my looks are located in my room and filed in a vanity folder in my external hd). Anyway, Tricia is just so pretty and I'd love to meet her someday but I'm sure I'd be too clueless that we'd end up talking to other friends instead.

And since I'm not sure what stealing pictures from her site means, you'll just have to visit it yourself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting a Life in Clothes

I sometimes think that it's too late to actually be a girl and start wearing clothes that would actually be called part of fashion. Most of the time I find myself pulling the first thing I could see in my closet which is usually a shirt and a pair of jeans. A year ago I'd pair everything with rubber shoes. At least now I've got two sets of sandals I'd alternate so my sneakers could rest for a while. I admit I used to love dressing up and I used to buy magazines with beautiful clothes worn by incredible models but that had been a long time ago and I haven't been in the fashion loop since. So I bought a style guide last week and decided to redo my wardrobe.

The decision started when I got a short stint with blog commenting. It was about fashion blogs and I was constantly drawn to the many beautiful outfits these girls (and even guys) wear. The quality of their photos were awesome. Their clothes were fabulous but oh so expensive! Everything had to be branded and whew I realized how expensive it would cost to be a fashion blogger. Then again, some of these bloggers get free stuff and I was like "yey!". Admittedly, I could afford a few items with the golden brand names but I still think it's a waste of money. Of course everything changes when it's for free. Somehow my direction for clothes changed when I kept hearing people talk about gorgeous stuff they pull out of the 'ukay-ukay'. And I am envious (but not in the really bad sense). It's like I want to go and rummage for some thrifted clothes every time I see some branded items in malls. Sheesh. What money can buy...

Anyway, I'm just posting to say that I may be writing more about fashion (or at least my attempt at being fashionable) in the coming days. I shall try my luck (although there's no such thing as luck) with getting girly and hopefully score some freebies in the process. Yey!

For the meantime, posting one of the few looks I've had that would pass as fashionable.

With lots of love (and sheets of cloth)