Top 5s

I was browsing the Nightwish website after checking for news from the band and was inspired by their Top 5 sections (and pleased to see how much I have in common with Floor <3). Because I was bored while waiting to start the day’s work, I decided to create my own similar lists of Top 5s with a couple of additional categories. These are subject to change at any time, and I’ll link this post in my About section so I can easily edit them as needed.

I’ve always enjoyed these lists of personal top 5s (as opposed to more questionable lists bordering on clickbait) because I think they’re a good way to get to know someone, and they force you to think about the things that have had an impact on you or influenced your life in some positive way.

ALBUMS

  1. Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
  2. My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice
  3. Temple of Thought – Poets of the Fall
  4. In Dream – Editors
  5. The Color Spectrum – The Dear Hunter

SONGS

  1. “Winter” – Tori Amos
  2. “Stylo” – Gorillaz
  3. “Children of the Sea” – Black Sabbath
  4. “Ten Speed (Of God’s Blood & Burial)” – Coheed and Cambria
  5. “The Islander” – Nightwish

MOVIES

  1. Stardust
  2. Practical Magic
  3. Jurassic Park
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Housebound

TV SHOWS

  1. Fringe
  2. Veronica Mars
  3. Parks and Recreation
  4. Stranger Things
  5. GLOW

GAMES

  1. Dragon Age: Origins
  2. Silent Hill 2
  3. Bloodborne
  4. Final Fantasy VI
  5. Oxenfree

BOOKS

  1. The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle
  2. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  3. Circe by Madeline Miller
  4. Troy by Adèle Geras
  5. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

DRINKS

  1. Coffee with cinnamon
  2. Coffee with whiskey
  3. Green tea
  4. Apple cider
  5. Mountain Dew – a vice that I try not to drink too often

FOOD

  1. Pasta with cream-based sauce
  2. Cheesecake
  3. Roasted corn, on or off the cob
  4. Juicy red steak with potatoes
  5. PIE – especially fruit pies

Music Spotlight: Poets of the Fall

I love music, and I have this intrinsic need to share the music I love, so I thought I’d do a series of posts to highlight some bands and musicians who may be lesser known but feature prominently in my music collection. The hope is that whoever comes across this blog might be introduced to a new band or musician they like, and I can spread the love far and wide. Or at least as far and wide as this little blog goes, which is not much due to lack of self-promotion and an affinity for solitude, but I digress.

First up are the gods of Nordic rock, Poets of the Fall.

I discovered Poets of the Fall back in 2010 when the video game Alan Wake was released. The band members are good friends with the game’s creator, Sam Lake, who tapped them to record a couple of songs for it under the pseudonym Old Gods of Asgard.

Alan’s encounter with members of the in-game band Old Gods of Asgard

Old Gods of Asgard also feature as memorable side characters in the game. They’re an aging metal band whose music plays a pivotal part in helping the protagonist and player move forward, and there’s one scene in particular that easily places in my top ten favorite gaming moments. If you want to watch the scene, this is a really good YouTube video of it, but I highly recommend playing the game if you haven’t and experiencing it for yourself. One of the best things about the scene is that it’s surprising, organic, and enjoyable in the moment. It’s fun to watch someone else play it, but it’s even more fun to experience it for yourself.

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Adventures in Baking: Maple Pumpkin Pie

On October 27-31, The Long Dark held an in-game Halloween event titled 4 Days of Night. I was excited to see my favorite game do an event for my favorite holiday, so I made time on each of the four days to settle in with a cup of hot cider and bask in the spooky nighttime atmosphere of 4DoN, and I’m beyond glad I did. It exceeded my expectations. I took a ton of screenshots, which I may post at a later time, but for now, this post is about baking.

On the 31st, players were treated to pumpkin pies that had the affect of keeping us warm to help combat the intense blizzard that also descended upon that fateful day. Being a baking enthusiast, I loved the look and idea of the pies, so I decided to whip up a real one on Halloween night.

piescreen

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Adventures in Baking

I’m not a baker. I’m a baking enthusiast.

A baker is someone who knows the science inside and out, who can whip up something magnificent out of a handful of ingredients, who can bake a multi-layered cake with mascarpone frosting and perfectly sculpted fondant without batting an eye. I’m not any of those things.

I understand enough of the science to bake something that tastes good, but I’m still learning. I usually have to use a recipe as a starting point, although I tweak and try to add my own twist as much as I can. I struggle so much with cake it’s not even funny. I revel in the little things, my favorite of which are whipping meringue, using sea salt as garnish, and trying to find excuses to add cinnamon to everything.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to start chronicling my adventures in baking here with the hope that I’ll see improvement as I continue to post. I’ll share photos, insights, and inspiration. Hopefully, I’ll eventually be able to post my own recipes fresh from my newly minted baker brain.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

saintanything

I’m shocked Circe is only 385 pages long. It feels like a vast and sprawling epic, as though it could be five or six books in one. It feels like oceans and mountains and multitudes, which is surprising not only considering its length but also because the majority of it takes place in a single location, the island of Aiaia where Circe is exiled. Somehow, despite this, it spans countries, centuries, viewpoints, and emotions.

Expanding upon the Greek myth, this book casts the Titan goddess in a new light, one that is feminist and humanist. Circe gains a deeper respect for humans than her fellow gods, who fail to see them as more than pawns. Her unique viewpoint among divinity is informed by her own treatment by her family, who revile her as much as any mortal when they’re not being actively worshiped by them.

Circe offers explanations for its protagonist’s habit of turning sailors into pigs and her desperate act of transforming the nymph Scylla into a monster. It adds depth to a common narrative surrounding powerful women — that they must be ill-tempered, ugly, and generally unlikable, luring men into their capricious traps. It allows Circe her flaws and mistakes (she’s still jealous of Scylla) but gives her agency and remorse. Her story here is told by a woman, not by a man as a thinly-veiled allegory that furthers the stories of other men (namely Odysseus and Jason).

Circe reads much like a coming-of-age story. At its core, it’s about a woman who comes into her own, transforming from an idealistic young Titan into a self-determined sorceress who learns how complex humans can be, alternately wanting to save and eschew them, all the while dealing with the familial difficulties that arise from being part of a pantheon of gods in a world that is defined by such things as status and beauty.

Miller’s prose is exquisite. It moved me to tears, particularly during one part which I wouldn’t dare spoil because it should be discovered the way things once were, by witnessing it in its rawest form. I can’t wait to read Song of Achilles, Miller’s other published novel about heroic yet ill-fated Achilles and his lover Patroclus.

Bottom line: Miller’s epic is a sympathetic retelling of Circe, whose sweeping insight had me reeling as I experienced her pain, love, and solitude through the author’s clear-flowing prose.

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The Momentum of War: American Involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Note: This article was originally written for a university class on Eurasian politics and security. It discusses how the war’s momentum has changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. There’s more to explore and more complexities that have arisen since Trump was elected in 2016, but I’ve saved those for a later discussion.

American diplomat George Kennan warned that war tends to change momentum once it gets going, evolving from the initial purpose into something entirely different by the end.1 American involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be encompassed by that idea. What began as a desire to preserve and promote American values, exacerbated by an attack on American soil, has become a much more complicated entanglement with various interests and groups in the region. Furthermore, it has facilitated an “identity crisis” in Pakistan, which has led to a military state that the U.S. has had to contend with even while cooperating with it.1 For Afghanistan’s part, it has remained a country whose stability has often been neglected in favor of other states’ competing interests. While Afghanistan has served as the main stage of the conflict between American interests and al Qaeda, the Taliban, and later the Islamic State (ISIS), it has also developed into a proxy for Pakistan’s interests in the Kashmir insurgency and the U.S.’s interests in Iraq.

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Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

saintanythingI’ve been a fan of Sarah Dessen for a long time. I got into her books after watching How to Deal, which I honestly don’t remember much about except that it starred Mandy Moore and introduced me to The Flaming Lips. I liked it when I was 14, though, enough to go out and buy the two Sarah Dessen books it was based on—That Summer and Someone Like You.

Dessen’s books are often cited as essential contemporary YA. They follow teen girls who are usually going through a significant transition in their lives. Romance is involved, but it takes a backseat to the other major events, which lead to personal growth and often familial healing. 

Saint Anything follows this basic Dessen formula, but the details are what make it stand out against her other books—and other YA contemporaries as well. It’s sprinkled with pizza and lollipops, nighttime jaunts through the woods, a band that kept reminding me of Hep Alien from Gilmore Girls, and a group of best friends better than any best friends have ever bested. The plot digs deeper than most of Dessen’s previous books, confronting things like unwanted sexual attention. Its moments of conflict and reprieve are equally balanced, and the dialogue is interesting and believable. Through it all, Dessen weaves details that felt so natural that I kept being reminded of my own high school experience.

Bottom line: Saint Anything is Dessen’s most recent book and her magnum opus, with characters I wanted to hug and scenes I wanted to hide in. It’s going to be a tough one to follow.

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