short fiction

Good Night Gone Wrong: A Flash Fiction Piece

Although there was no judging or awarding of first, second, or third places, I’d received a ton of compliments for my piano-playing and singing-performance of “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen”. People had said to me, “You were really great, Aliana,” despite the pause in the middle of the song. I’d blanked out for a few seconds due to my live-performance anxiety. But everyone experienced them, even the greatest and bravest performers—of anything.

            I sat on my bed and looked at my laptop. People posted pictures of me performing at Spotlight Night. Someone even tagged me.

            I’d thanked my mom for forcing me to practice my piano and voice performance for weeks straight rather than focusing on trying to get my anime comic published. I was only a high school junior after all. My birthday wasn’t for five months. In fact, I’d started attending the public high school in September. Before that, I’d attended private school—the same one since kindergarten.

            A message came up in my Facebook messenger. It was my best friend, Veronica. She said, “Aliana, I just came back from the hospital for a few weeks. I saw that you performed ‘Let it Go’ at Spotlight Night. Well, tell you what? That was my idea. You stole it from me.”

            I replied back. “Veronica, I am sorry you feel this way. However, I wasn’t able to contact you. I’ve visited you a few times and not once have you said that you had that song in mind first. You should’ve said something.”

            Veronica replied. “Maybe we should part our ways.”

            I lowered my jaw. No. She did not just say that. Or she didn’t mean it—she couldn’t have.

            I responded. “Veronica, you don’t have to do this.”

            But she did nothing. I waited a few minutes and surfed other parts of the web instead.

            I returned to Facebook. Veronica had still not answered me. Okay, maybe she had to get offline for something.

            I looked at my digital clock. It was nearly 11 P.M. Tomorrow was Friday. I turned off the computer and got ready for bed.

            I went on my phone to see if Veronica had gotten back to me. Nope. She couldn’t have unfriended me, right.

            I went to the “Who Deleted Me” app on my phone. And guess who was listed… Veronica Button. What? No. She couldn’t have.

            My energy drained. I looked down. My eyes watered. That girl had been my best friend since the first day. And now she was no more.

            I contacted my old friend, Lorenza from my previous school. But she didn’t answer.

            The tears streamed down my cheeks. I sat on my bed. There had to be some way to reciprocate.

            Wait, tomorrow was a gym day. Perhaps, I could talk to Veronica before or after our activity. She should listen. Maybe she’d had a bad day. So she should understand.

 

art

Fun with Photoshop

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Above is a lighting effect I did in Photoshop. That’s right, Photoshop is more than just editing photos, although that is the main purpose of it.

You can draw, paint, shade, and anything you would do with traditional painting. Errors are easier to fix. You don’t have to start over and redraw the thing you made a mistake with. Best of all, there is no mess to clean up. It’s just your digital palette which can be shown as a gradient bar or swatches. You can name your colors, too.

Just be aware that Photoshop is expensive and can be complex or abstract for those just starting out. I’ve used Photoshop for over seven years. It was one of my high school graduation gifts, along with a MacBook Pro.

You should also avoid letting it spoil you. Don’t allow the easy error-fixing shortcuts make you frustrated when you have to do traditional media . That happened to me when I was 19. I was a bit disappointed (although didn’t express it) to have to erase the eye on the portrait I was drawing and had to redraw it instead of transport it to the right spot quickly. That would be magic. And of course, that’ s not possible.

Another approach I’ve done several times was draw something by hand using pencil and then scanning it into Photoshop to color, like in the image below.

Little Girl Scan

Yup, you can color in Photoshop using the paint bucket tool. Photoshop recognizes lines and will color only in between them as long as there are no gaps. Even the tiniest ones can get unwanted elements colored in by accident.

Speaking of which, Photoshop uses pixels. If you draw an image in Photoshop and try to blow it up, it will look blurry. You can raise the dots-per-inch (DPI) to 300 and that’ll make it less blurry. But Illustrator might be better for enlarging a picture. That’s another topic, though.

Blending is also something you can do in Photoshop. Below is a portrait I did where I blended colors to add dimension to the subject.

20150613_195551_resized coloredYou can see the smudges, tints, tones, and highlights. It also looks tangible, especially the lips. I was trying to experiment with realistic textures in digital painting. Few simple digital art programs would offer something this complex.

So if you’re considering using Photoshop, take these into account. Get to know the program. Although I’ve used it for over seven years, there are still some techniques I have yet to learn.

cooking

Trick or Treat with this Sweet Skillet Cookie

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Ah, the gooey, chewy, skillet cookies–who doesn’t love them, especially when warm and topped with ice cream (which I didn’t use since I don’t have any in my house)?

Well, I used a recipe that was rated close to 5 stars, and had the best rating compared to the other recipes I found on Google. You start off by making caramel with the sugars and butter. Then you add the other ingredients.

I decided to add some extra ingredients to dress it up for Halloween. I know Halloween hasn’t come yet. But hey, stuff about that holiday is already happening.

So the additional ingredients I added were white chocolate chips (I like to use them in general, regardless of time of year), Halloween sprinkles, green sugar, and yellow and red food coloring. I think the problem that kind of messed up the recipe was the green sugar and possibly the sprinkles. The cookie ended up tasting too sweet.

I forced myself to eat it. I still have most of it in my refrigerator. So I have to find some way to get it consumed. I don’t think adding ice cream will be a good idea at this point.

I do usually enjoy skillet cookies. But something about this creation ended up not what I expected. I used unsalted and salted butter, by the way. Hmmm… perhaps, I should keep looking for more recipes. I think I’ll find a recipe just as well-rated. If not, better.

 

art

Collage Comedy

In college, I took a 2D design course. One of the assignments was to make collages of scenes in different moods. There were a few choices, but the ones I remember, and the ones I chose, were content and melancholy. We has to make them humorous or somehow positive. We also couldn’t use words.

I like to apply humor to many of my creations. In high school, we did slideshows on endangered species and I was assigned some type of wild pig (I can’t remember the species, though) to present on. I had a man lifting a big dumbbell and drew a pig over his head to show the hog’s strength. To reveal its lifespan, I used a picture of Pumbaa from “The Lion King” and drew a beard on him.

Of course, this isn’t a science post. I don’t specialize in science here on my blog. Anyway, let me show you the collages I made and why I used the specific scenes.

collage 1

This was the collage with the content theme. I always admired the idea of non-native species in certain areas of the world. I especially liked the idea of a non-native creature in Italy, such as the lion above in the gondola with a singing-man.

Obviously, lions don’t live in Italy. And no, I didn’t use the ancient Roman animal fights as an inspiration. Honestly, I don’t remember how I came up with using a lion. It’s been a few years.

And onto the next collage:

collage 2

Above is a dingo eating a baby as the assignment for melancholy. This is actually based off a true event. In the late 90’s, a dingo actually ate a baby. That is, of course, really sad.

However, at some point, people used that event as a way to express humor. It was a tragedy turned into a comedy. That was why I used this scene. It was the first thing that came into my mind.

Collages can be used as scrapbooking style, like random information about you. I’m assuming many people had to make them in school when they were kids. I most certainly did. They can also be used artistically to make images. I’ve actually done that in high school in an advanced art class. I don’t have them here on this post. In fact, I don’t know if I have them anymore.

But I found these after searching all over my room. I made them 3 years ago. They are still great to admire now.

travel

I Went the Distance to Greece in the Summer of 2015

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Image above from Pixabay

Greece is the home of the Parthenon and one of the oldest nations in the world. It also has beautiful islands, water, and architecture. When I went to Greece with my family, we went to Athens and one of the outer islands, which I can’t remember the name of.

We did sight-seeing, walked around, and went on a boat around the other island. We did a Segway tour, too. I was not the best, honestly. I stayed with the guide.

The food was very different than from in the US. The meat quality if higher and fresher. Olive oil is used on pretty much everything. In fact, it’s the dressing for traditional Greek salad. Greek salad from Greece also has no lettuce. The Greek dressing and lettuce Americans use is a tradition in the US.

Another moment that was unexpected was when a stray cat came up to our dinner table (we were seated outside) at a restaurant. My dad would chop up meat and feed it to the cat. We didn’t get caught, by the way.

One pitfall, however, was that outside of Athens, there wasn’t much variety in cuisines. At some point, I got sick of Greek food. I craved gravy, barbeque sauce (when I still could eat tomatoes), and other foods not traditional to Greece.

Nevertheless, Greece was a nice place to visit. It’s great after learning about the country in school. I had to study Ancient Greece in school. Didn’t we all?

movie

On the Way… Now a Review of “Ice Age” (2002)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

 

One of the greatest prehistoric-set movies of all time is “Ice Age”. I am amazed how much effort the creators did to use prehistoric creatures. They got to use pretty much any kind, except dinosaurs.

The three main characters’ voice actors did such a great job with their roles. John Leguizamo expressed such great humor on Sid the sloth. Ray Romano did a superb job as the cranky Manny the mammoth. Dennis Leary portrayed Diego the dark saber-toothed tiger very well.

And Scrat? Ah, you can’t forget him—constantly chasing his acorn. He may not speak or be part of the main trio (or the group of 4 if you add the baby), but Scrat’s moments are wonderful. There was one moment in the film where Sid, Manny, Diego, and the baby came into contact with Scrat.

Speaking of which, the film begins with Scrat, trying to get his acorn in the snow. He falls and the snow is gone. He catches his acorn, and a larger animal steps on him. The title sequence and opening credits start.

The animals are migrating to prepare for the ice age. Manny goes in another direction. Another scene shows Sid waking up and unable to find his family. After accidentally angering a couple rhinos, Sid runs from them and meets Manny. Sid shows interest in being Manny’s companion. But Manny is too moody and prefers to be alone.

Another point-of-view shows the human baby and his parents. Diego and the other tigers are watching. At some point, the tigers attack. Diego almost gets the baby until the mother catches him. She runs away with the child, but dies as she sees Manny and Sid. Sid takes the baby. Shortly after, Diego meets Sid and Manny. They begin their journey to return the baby to the other humans.

This film had a lot of action, humor, and emotional moments. The scene where the animal trio and the baby get separated in the ice slide tunnels was funny. The baby had no fear whatsoever. The animal trio was for the most part good with the baby. Diego didn’t always act appropriately to the child, though. Sometimes, however, he was brighter than Sid. Sid tended to naïve and didn’t always make smart choices. Like when Manny suggested milk for the baby, Sid reacted with, “Ooh, I’d love some.” Diego clarified that Manny was taking about the baby.

The dodo scene was awesome. I appreciated their Tae-kwon-do scene when the main trio just wanted to give the infant food. And Sid won. There was a slow-motion effect as Sid fought the dodos.

Now the film is not without its flaws. There is one inconsistency I noticed. At the end, when Sid is getting emotional and teary as the baby has been returned to his father and the other people, Diego comes back and says, “You know humans can’t talk.” But the baby’s mother talked. Diego was even there. When she ran away with the baby, she turned around to the other humans and said, “Bye.” I guess Diego must’ve forgot by the film’s end—or had tuned out during that time. I don’t know.

Nevertheless, “Ice Age” was a fantastic movie. There are three sequels after, I believe. I would rate this 5 out of 5 stars.

 

cooking

Candy Apples from Scratch: They’re Kickin’ Sweet and Amazing

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Image above from Pixabay

A few times a year, I like to make candy apples from scratch. It’s only a few ingredients: apples (obviously), corn syrup, sugar, water, and red food coloring.

The hardest part is having to get the right temperature in order to dip the apples into the candy liquid. You will need a thermometer. You can also use cold water and put the liquid drops in there. It will fade in the beginning, but you need it to turn brittle at some point.

Most of the times I’ve made candy apples, they were irresistible and I’ve made a lot of them. This time of year, though, I’ve made fewer and used half the recipe’s ingredients. Only one was good enough to be consumed. I ate that one. The others, however, didn’t get all the candy coating.

Another tip is to use white sugar only. Never use brown sugar. I tried that once and it turned the liquid dark brown and smelling burnt.

And the most important tip of all is be patient. The temperature will take time. It needs to be 300 degrees F.

And be aware, they candy coating is super-sticky. I like the homemade ones more than the packaged kinds you get at fairs. But be prepared for a lot of handwashing and trying not to get stickiness other places.

 

travel

I’ve Been on a Trip… to Niagara Falls – 2008

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Image above from Pixabay

In the spring of 2008, when I was 14, my mom, brothers, and I went to Niagara Falls. Another family went with us too. We all rode in my mom’s minivan.

We got to see the falls. However, due to the cold weather, not as many attractions were open. For instance, we couldn’t go on the maid-of-the-mist boat ride.

On the bright side, we still got to do a lot of other fun activities. Where we were was kind of like a mini-Vegas. We did a lot of virtual reality rides and shows, such as a SpongeBob one. We also rode on a Ferris wheel and had Buffalo wings that were just called wings. They did have the same Buffalo sauce, though.

The Canadian side of the area had more to offer than the American side. We had to show our passports to go past the border, even in a car.

After a few days in the Niagara Falls area, we stayed at my uncle’s house in Pennsylvania, not too far from the Niagara area. I don’t really remember what we did then.

I would love to visit Niagara Falls again, especially in the summer. I did do the maid-of-the-mist ride when I was really little, like 5. But now in my mid-twenties, it would be a different experience.

There are a lot of places I would like to visit. I am more into trips where I get to do activities, like boating or ziplining, rather than touring places like historical sites. Because I’m not a child anymore, I have told that trips should be somewhat educational too. Yes, I do agree. But I still like the ones where I can do activities more than touring sites.

cooking

Healthy Gingerbread Cookies – They’re Luckily Delicious, No Matter What

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Image above from Pixabay

I found a recipe for healthy gingerbread cookies on Google a while back. For copyright reasons, I will not post the link. However, you can search for it or any other one on your own.

The one I am going to discuss is not only healthier, but is also dairy-free (it called for coconut oil, not butter) and can easily have its ingredients be substituted. I replaced the all-purpose flour with gluten-free and whole wheat flours as well as almond meal. The cookies came out delicious.

Unlike me, many people I know didn’t enjoy the cookies as much. I brought them to a social event at one of my friend’s houses. Sadly, they weren’t a hit, despite being homemade. Even my own family didn’t really care for the cookies.

However, I enjoyed them enough that I kept eating them. One time, I used coconut sugar and pure maple syrup (not Aunt Jemima pancake syrup) in place of granulated sugar. My mom smelled the coconut. I did not, though. Some things my family can smell—I can’t. I’ve become immune to the scents. One example is seafood. Others can be coconut, like in this case.

I also found no difference in taste for the batch of these healthier gingerbread cookies to the classic recipes that call for granulated sugar and all-purpose flour. Others were easily able to tell the difference, though. Still—what matters more is that I enjoyed the cookies.

movie

Tick Tock on “The House with a Clock in its Walls” Review (2018)

Warning: Contains Spoilers***

 

I saw this film with some friends, not knowing what it was going to be about. In some ways, it made the movie more exciting as everything was a surprise.

The film begins with 10-year-old Lewis, who was recently orphaned and is being sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan. Uncle Jonathan seems nice and doesn’t place any rules at that moment. His house, however, seems haunted to Lewis. Lewis’s mom comes up in Lewis’s dream and says that Uncle Jonathan is evil. Lewis wakes up and believes that. He tries to escape. Even the kids at Lewis’s new school consider the house dangerous. They also don’t care about Lewis. Uncle Jonathan’s one rule is not to open a certain cabinet. Tarby, a classmate of Lewis, tries to disobey that guideline, thinking that it’s no problem. Desperate to make friends with Tarby, Lewis breaks that rule and unintentionally raises Isaac Izzard from the dead. It takes time for Uncle Jonathan and his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, to listen to Lewis when he tries to admit that he opened that forbidden cabinet. After Lewis confessing his wrongdoing, things get worse and intense.

The movie had its light and dark moments. It also had some strange material, such as toilet humor. I had to cover my eyes when the winged lion excreted. That moment when Lewis is trying to undo the eclipse, Uncle Jonathan turns into a baby with the same adult face and voice. I was trying not to laugh, even after that scene. Does humor like that really belong in a dark moment?

Despite it being rated PG, there were a couple of mature words as well as some intensely dark moments that I was getting goosebumps from, even as an adult. I thought it would’ve been better off PG-13.

On the bright side, the story has a lot of excellent elements. The plot was well-thought-out. I appreciated the plot twists, such as when the neighbor, Mrs. Hanchett, was really Selena in disguise this whole time and her dog was Selena’s rat. Selena has been disguised as Lewis’s mom in Lewis’s dreams the entire time. I also admired how Uncle Jonathan was actually a good guy this whole time, despite the hints of him being wicked at the beginning. After the eclipse was undone, he told Lewis not to tell Mrs. Zimmerman about his baby body during the eclipse process. I found that to make him very believable.

Overall, I would rate this 4 out of 5 stars. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this to very young children, but older kids 10 and up may enjoy it. Note, I never read the book and didn’t know there was a book of this until after I saw the movie. I may check it out, though.