Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Spring Sunlight

I often end up a little scarce during spring, don't I? There are many reasons for it. One is that, as beautiful as spring is, I also find it sort of agitating/restless. Especially in Arizona where the weather can constantly be moving from one extreme to the other during this time of year, my energy and state of mind end up being affected. Then given that spring is lovely, there are often more things to do this time of year, whether those be events/festivals or state parks. Thirdly, spring was one of the busiest times of the year where I used to work--and this year it's turned out to be one of the busiest times ever for the place I'm currently at due to all the, um, concerns gripping the country right now. So with working more, trying to enjoy the spring, and also feeling off base because of the spring (and because of some other reasons that I might get into at some later point), the posts have once more suffered.

Yesterday when I got into the car, my phone lit up with such-and-such many minutes to such-and-such park. I thought, yes, I've done it. It takes a few weeks for your phone to register a new workplace as Work, or for it to know that you're headed to church on Sunday mornings--and a few weeks for it to know that you go to the park every Monday morning. You see, I was never into gyms and I always thought I wasn't the type of person who goes to run at the park. But then in January I was thinking many things and in a way wasn't sure of certain things about my identity (I'm talking about inherent vs. learned traits). So I thought that that was a great time to start being "the type of person who goes to the park."

I alternate walking and jogging; you can use the length of songs to help set the pace. I just do one quick loop and then go home. I hadn't run since freshman year of high school fifteen years ago, so even that wore me out the first couple times. Now I'm fairly used to it and the time passes quickly and I can more focus on the fresh air and the trees. And now is a good time for that. We all need some fresh air and exercise right now.

Everyone is trying to stay home and so many things are being closed or canceled (bye, next month's opera or the opening of Mulan). But depending on where you live, you may still be able to get outside. Whether it's walking at the park, sitting in your back yard, or going to a trail, these things don't put you in close contact with other people and probably don't even require touching anything while you're out either. We need the sunlight for body and mind.

Edit 3/25: I don't know if I was clear enough. I do mean outdoor things that do not put you around lots of people. If the park or trail or wherever is full of people, skip it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Two Old Women of Alaska

The best thing about buying used book is coming across random or sometimes even out-of-print books that you might never have otherwise even heard of. Sure, sometimes I like running into a good deal--but mainly I buy my books new and just look to the used book places for the cool finds. I've developed quite a collection of them, too, so maybe I can pick up the pace and start reading more again.

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis was a great place to start. It's only about 130 small pages, so fast readers might be finished with it in an hour (I am not a fast reader). First published in 1993, it is a story that Velma Wallis preserves from her Athabascan heritage. Usually I gather stories like this from the Southwest since that's my zone (and it's also Southwestern stories that I'm most likely to come across), so departing up to Alaska and the Arctic Circle was a bit of an adventure.

And yet also a familiar one. The straightforward writing style reminded me not so much of Native American stories (though this is an oral tradition, more people are putting these into writing, just as Velma Wallis was putting her people's oral stories into writing) but more of Little House on the Prairie. Maybe it's because there is no magical/mythological element, just a simple, factual approach. In the same way that Laura described how they would make butter or harvest hay, Velma describes the events that the two women in this story go through and all the tasks that they approach.

This is the story of age versus youth, of weakness versus strength, of hopelessness versus resolve. It's a simple story, so you could tell it all in a couple of sentences if you wanted to. But it plays out very well exactly as it is. It's a story about survival in a harsh land, and yet it is strangely relevant even to those of us who will never have to live off of the land. It is strangely relevant, as well, to modern living because it is a reminder to respect those who were born before us because they have things they can teach us, just as we have ways we can benefit their lives if only we will.

It's a story about endurance but it is also a story about community. And I find that particularly resonating today. It's so easy to be without an actual community these days that many times it is deliberate acts that keep us in communities. And by community I don't just mean a couple close friends; those are great, but we need friends, family if possible, and also relationships with people who are not entirely like us. Wonderful things happen when different generations interact with each other.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Trains, Trains, and More Trains

Boys do love their trains, don't they? Okay, I know you can't generalize, but that would be the generalization, wouldn't it be? (And I of course mean boys of all ages.) Not being one of the boys in love with trains, I wouldn't even have been aware of Arizona Railway Day at the Arizona Railway Museum last weekend--nor was I even aware of the Arizona Railway Museum. But sometimes even events that you wouldn't have thought of on your own are still quite nice.

The museum is free on Railway Day. It's small, so you're mainly outside looking at the trains. They had more trains open than normal to walk into. You could blow the horn on the above train, which is fun even for those with the very most casual train interest. 

Don't fear to step in front of this train; it isn't going anywhere. 

The cars there were from a variety of eras, some as early as Edwardian, some mid-century, and some later. There were dining areas and sleeping areas and passenger areas like the one below. These seats were much more comfortable than modern plane seats. 

You could also walk through I guess it would be called the engine room on one of the trains. Can you tell how interested I was in that part?

One of the cars had some displays of vintage dishes from particular trains or train stops. There was also some info on the Harvey Girls (quick history: trains would stop at certain locations long enough for passengers to dine and the Harvey Girls were the ones serving them). That being closer to my era of history, this was one of my favorite sections. 

As were also the older train cars. This little sink and cabinet speak of a time not long after the (previous) turn of the century. 

A great cabinet and typewriter, too. 

And just look at the wood details and the glass. Now that's the type of train I'm interested in. 

The day was sunny and gorgeous, so spending a late morning outside walking in and out of a collection of trains was unexpectedly great. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Riders Ride Once More

Riders of the Purple Sage is the first opera that I have seen a second time. I caught Arizona Opera's world premiere of it three years ago and was quite happy to see it coming back again this season. (Click here to read that original post.) Essentially it was the same production, with perhaps some adjustments to the sets. So I have already talked about the music, Ed Mell's artwork, and the themes.

The question is, how does this opera appear on a repeat viewing? Was it just exciting because it was different (a Western opera)? Was it just beautiful because of the moving-painting-screen backdrop? Sure, those are great, but no, there is something more to this piece that made it a pleasure to revisit.

My favorite part remains Jane's song at the beginning of Act II. That is this opera. It is the extension of the self over the landscape. It is the absorption of the beauty all around and the expression of the harshness--and the vocalized resolution to embrace that which is good. The Southwest makes for such a great fictional setting because it is a land rich with color, texture, and life, and yet it is also a land that is deadly if you take a wrong step. That delicate way of walking is essentially the way that Jane tries to walk, believing so strongly in her faith and yet realizing that the very churchmen who claim to uphold it in her community are not living out love and faith.

So that is what makes Rider of the Purple Sage a lovely piece to revisit. Its embracing of the Southwest is enough to make it an anthem for Arizona Opera. But its way of capturing that duality of the desert makes it into the anthem for Arizona (or the Southwest) as a whole.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Happiness, Joy, and Peace

Happiness, joy, and peace are three very different things. It is possible to have them all at once, but those moments are kind of rare in the grand scheme of things. The first two words in particular are sometimes used interchangeably, and so it is that I often find myself defining the difference between them. Now I find it important to introduce that third element as well.

We each get happy over different things. I am happy when I go to Disneyland, when I find a cool new chocolate bar to review, when I finish washing the dishes, when I'm watching my bearded dragon eat her morning salad, or when I see a really great bolt of lightning. None of these are bad things. But they don't really matter much in and of themselves. Some of them are fairly superficial and unimportant in a certain sense.

Joy is a little different. Think of things like seeing a newborn in your family for the first time or spending time with people you care about (not for the sake of the place or activity but for the sake of the time together) or your first kiss with someone. See what I'm getting at? Joy starts moving outside of the self. Happiness is self-centered. It can involve others, but it's mainly about you and things happening to you. Joy is more about connection. It can still be solitary, depending. But it mainly involves a connection outside of yourself. And this would be why the phrase "the joy of the Lord:" that's ultimate connection outside of the self.

And peace, peace is certainty and assurance. Peace can exist outside of and apart from happiness; it can even exist inside sadness. Peace is greater than the worries of the current moment in time. And peace is what allows you to fully enter and appreciate those moments of joy, and peace is what helps you to be thankful for the happinesses rather than expecting the things (the Disneyland or the ownership of an exotic pet) to be things that you must possess in order to be content.

Maybe peace is being, joy is interacting, and happiness is receiving. I mean, you receive peace and joy, too, but I was trying to build a nice and neat sentence there. And it loops it all back around, right? Receiving joy and receiving peace are, as I mentioned, what can bring you back around to gratefully receiving happiness. So as I started with, the three are interrelated but don't necessarily always overlap.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Scottsdale's Parada del Sol

Think of the Pony Express as the token of a bygone era, a phrase long passed away? That may be so, but the Pony Express is also still alive. It still runs its route once a year from northern Arizona down to Old Town Scottsdale, where a celebration kicks off the Parada del Sol the next morning. I have not yet been to see the Pony Express mail delivered, but this year I did finally make it to the Parada del Sol.

Scottsdale founder Winfield Scott and his wife.

The day begins with the Parada itself. Not really being overly a parade person, I took my time getting in and only caught about the second half (maybe less) or the parade. It's a community parade, with local schools, organizations, some knights in armor, and plenty of horses. Families are going to go to see their kids in the parade and so that their other children can have fun and get candy. If you love horses, there are some absolutely beautiful horses. And people in general are going to go because it's just a celebration of Scottsdale and central Arizona--and that's great.

There were horses wandering around afterwards, too.

After the parade, you have the rest of the day to enjoy the Trail's End Festival and the Arizona Indian Festival. Though they're all pretty much the same thing for the casual attendee, there is a division between them. The Trail's End Festival takes place in the street (which is of course closed off for the day) and the Arizona Indian Festival is off to the side in the Civic Center Plaza. After glancing at the food options available in the main area (these are the things that are important to me), I headed to the Plaza area first.

This park-like area is a wonderful, quiet place to spend time even when there isn't a festival. And during the festival, if you walked just a little apart, it also gave a chance for a quieter atmosphere for anyone needing a break from all the noise and people. The Indian Festival had vendors selling art and jewelry--a great opportunity if you're in the market for those. Of course there was fry bread for sale. There were kids' activities and cultural demonstrations. Various tribes also had booths to share their culture, and plenty of spots were giving info on tourist sites and tours, that sort of thing. Which is quite nice: there are many beautiful places to visit that are on tribal land, where there are separate rules about how to do things. So it's nice that they have people there who can answer questions or let you know what you might need to visit some of these places (whether a specific spot needs a permit and how to get one of if you can only go on a guided tour, that sort of thing).

Back in the Trail's End zone, there were more kids' activities. Plenty of them free, so this really is a great family event. There were three stages, as well. Two with bands, the style of music you'd expect at a community event, and then the Fiesta Stage had Mexican music and dancing.

I admit that I did skip out on the historical reenacting group. I'm not into focusing on gunfights and prostitutes--the nineteenth century and the history of the West and of Arizona are much more than that. So that's media, not history. What about the settlers and the ranchers--or hey, what about what all the rest of the festival is about? It kind of clashed to me.

Now back to the food. I wanted to scout it all out before I decided on anything because the one thing I was allowing myself to spend money on was food. (I had expected there to be more vendors than there were, so I had already beaten it into my head to not get overwhelmed by all the nice jewelry or whatever caught my eye.) They had some of the fair food type things and burgers and the fry bread. But I was trying to decide between tacos from this truck or that truck--so I got some from both. And they were both very good--and I don't say things like that lightly. So A+ on the food.

I sat for a while enjoying the sun after I'd eaten and watching the dancing. My favorite things were the food and the horses--and you know what, also the sun. It was an almost hot day for being winter, the type of day where you're glad for an excuse to just get outside.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Antidote: Rose Salt + Lemon

Some chocolate companies have an intense marketing/design team behind them. Antidote Chocolate appears to be one of those companies. Maybe it's largely due to the vision of founder Red Thalhammer; maybe it's because she knows how to build a good team. But Antidote is oozing with that cool and hip vibe. You can see it in the design. You can see it in the words on the packaging and on their website. There are references to the Greek goddess of youth, Hebe, and to chocolate as an antidote to whatever is troubling you (stress, hunger, sadness, low energy, etc.). And of course there is the obligatory talk about the Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional cocoa and about how it's all direct trade.

When things are marketed so "well" and on trend you almost begin to wonder if it's too much. Trends change, after all. But style is just style, and flavor remains apart from all that (or does it? what do the blind taste tests show?).

Sadly, I once again have some chocolate with very bad bloom on it. And this isn't due to an impending expiration date: that isn't until a year from now. That's Arizona, I guess. This is why there used to be no chocolate makers in Arizona, eh? It's winter right now, so this damage must have taken place a while ago. I wonder if it happened when it was being shipped to the little shop where I bought it, and then it's been sitting in that little shop with no one buying it for months since that time . . .

Anyway. This naturally would have been quite an attractive bar before the bloom. The back of the bar has a look almost like chocolate bark, with the salt and lemon peel sprinkled onto it. The front has round bumps on the squares that spell out "Antidote." These are the chocolate pills you can pop as the antidote to whatever ails you. Personal preference here: it's nice to consider good quality chocolate as something you can turn to when you need a little something special, but do we really want to make light of the concept of pill-popping?

The chocolate has a straightforward, Ghirardelli type semisweet chocolate aroma. I tasted it first with the salt side down. The salt almost tasted smokey for a second, but no, that wasn't it at all, it was just salt. The chocolate unfortunately didn't want to melt. A combination of this being winter and therefore the chocolate being currently at a cooler temperature and also the damage done by the blooming. So I went ahead and chewed the chocolate a little; I didn't want to sit with it an hour until it became warm enough to melt.

In this fashion, I did get a slight bitterness early on. I think that was mainly because I got a full hit of the chocolate instead of easing into it: this chocolate really isn't what I'd normally call bitter. It's warm and red and nice. The salt was gone by the time I got to the chocolate and I didn't notice any rose or lemon flavors. The chocolate's flavor stayed pretty much the same the whole time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just the way it is.

Going with the salt side up for the second piece, I started on a little chewing again, then tried to keep up a light chew rather than settling in for melting. This way the salt was able to mix in with the flavor of the chocolate more. This time, the feeling was more of a chocolate spread, which was kind of a cool effect. This happened both because of the way that the salt worked in and because of the texture. There's something about this chocolate's texture that feels different, a little thicker. I can't say grainy, just thicker somehow.

By this point, I was really wondering about the missing rose and lemon. So I turned to the ingredients list and finally realized that rose and salt are not two separate words: it is fact rose salt. I've come across plenty of flavored salts, but never rose salt. It doesn't seem to make sense: isn't rose too tender to stand up to the bold taste of salt? No wonder I don't taste any rose. I tried licking the salt on the bar to see if I could taste it in a more isolated way like that, but I still just tasted salt. Granted, the salt did taste a little different to me on that first bite, but that doesn't mean that I ever tasted rose.

Now, not being one to favor lemon chocolate, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the lemon element, but still, where is it? I did end up with a tiny piece of lemon peel in my mouth at one point, so I could taste it then when it was by itself like that. But that's different. And it did make me see why the lemon is nigh invisible: the lemon peel pieces are pretty tiny. Going subtle on lemon is probably a good thing, but maybe if the pieces were just a little bigger, they'd be part of the flavor instead of just images on the packaging.

So this is mainly just salted chocolate. I mean, it's possible that because this chocolate has been through some temperature changes or whatnot, that affected the flavors. But I doubt it affected things that much. As salted chocolate, it's nice. It's a good level of salt. Not overly salty and yet not super subtle either. Given that Antidote focuses on flavored chocolate, I would have preferred my first look at their products to be something with a little more flavor going on, something a little bolder maybe. But this was good. It's a solid, widely-appealing dark chocolate base with some fun flavor added in.