Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Winter Has Come

Winter and Christmastime have come to Arizona. The snows have fallen. The lights and decorations are out. 

Everything came together with Thanksgiving. There were some rains before Thanksgiving, but the big storms (the ones that brought snow to the higher elevation areas) came on Thanksgiving day. And after Thanksgiving, of course, is when everyone traditionally goes full on with the Christmas festivities. 

I welcome it all. I always welcome it all, but this year I especially do. This year has been filled with intense highs and lows. I reached up toward a spirit of thanksgiving in November and now that it is December, I am feeling remembrance, gratefulness, and rejoicing. That is the way to cap off my year.

This year, my Victorian-esque Christmas tree (it just has pinecones and glass "candle" ornaments) and my simple, white nativity set seemed the perfect dressing for the season. The theme to these decorations is light and purity. On a cold, winter night to sit with glowing lights and to remember that which is good. Hallelujah. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

Wandering through Old Tucson

Wander through the desert, past hills of saguaros and cliffs of exposed rock. Go up through curved, little roads and back down through simple angles. Turn left and left again.

And here you are, an Old West town that was never a town. Old Tucson is essentially the Old West town of Tucson that once was but no longer is--built specifically as a film studio.

Wander through the buildings, some styled rustic, some less so. Various businesses and the like. Most you can walk into, but they don't necessarily have inside what they say on the outside. There are shops and restaurants and a couple of complete insides, but mainly the outside look is simply for the outside. 

Take the train to see the desert and some more filming--and the backsides of the town buildings. 

Sit in the back of the train for best enjoying the view you leave behind. 

A little church sits up on the top edge of the town. You can walk in this one; it is in fact kept up rather nicer than some of the other Old West/Historic type churches you might find elsewhere. 

The Stagecoach will cost you a bit extra, but the pretty Carousel and the Autopia-style, vintage cars are included. 

And, you know, if you're in need of some dollars for that Stagecoach, you can try and break into a safe or something. This is the Wild West, after all. 

And then a quiet moment to take it all in. 

Old Tucson has film history, if that's your area of interest. It also has nineteenth century, western/southwestern atmosphere, if that's your focus. Then there is the beautiful, desert setting on the edge of Tucson, right by Saguaro National Park. And also you'll find plenty of entertainment, from the little train and cars to the shows. Something for everyone and plenty of photo opportunities. 

You're the one holding the camera--what story will you make? 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Theo: Cinnamon Marshmallows

Last month, I declared Theo's Vanilla Bean Marshmallows a success. Now it's time to take a look at one of the flavored options; the other is Peppermint, but the one I chose is Cinnamon. While both are wintry flavors, cinnamon and chocolate is dearer to my heart than peppermint and chocolate--especially when it comes to marshmallows that might end up in a cup of hot chocolate.

Most everything is the same here. The box has the same cut and design, just with a different color scheme. The red has a jollier, more Christmasy feel, so I'd probably be quicker to reach for this one if I were choosing a gift.

Once more, we have a clear bag inside with the chocolate-dipped marshmallows. They don't smell too much of cinnamon until you bite into one because the cinnamon is in the marshmallows, not the chocolate. I talked last time about the excellent quality of the marshmallows and their relationship with the chocolate. All of that still applies here.

What's different is the cinnamon. It immediately adds a warm and nuanced spice. And quite rightly so: besides the cinnamon, there is also cayenne in here. Not enough that they needed to call it "Mexican chocolate" or "spiced cinnamon" or anything. But enough that the cinnamon gives that extra kick. It isn't spicy. It's just, like I mentioned, warm and nuanced.

It's everything that you would want in a wintry treat: warm and cozy and sweet. Hot chocolate and wool blankets and fireplaces and all that. But it's also elegant. It isn't just cinnamon chocolate; it's a cinnamon chocolate sweet that hits a particular flavor angle. And so it also becomes holiday gatherings and marble dessert boards and shiny dresses. Essentially, these marshmallows can be whatever you want them to be and they can fit into whatever context you want. The Vanilla Bean Marshmallows I enjoyed; these I'm loving.

They remind me of something Trader Joe's might market. Something that can be casual and comforting or the type of thing you'd take out of the box and serve elegantly without telling anyone that you just bought it from the grocery store. And that's what Theo does with their chocolate bars, as well. That's why they've long been a favorite of mine for introducing people to, for instance, their first high quality milk chocolate. They create good and approachable products.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Thanksgiving Light

Thanksgiving is a community holiday and also a private holiday. Thanksgiving is all about giving and sharing and appreciating others. And yet it is also about reflecting inward, about being graceful and thankful.

Thanksgiving is the shallowest holiday and the deepest holiday. Put a turkey on a table and there you go, it's Thanksgiving. But no, that isn't it. The tradition calls for food, but the theme of the holiday asks for giving thanks. Is that not the most amazing thing? That we would all across the country gather together at a thousand different types of tables around a thousand different types of table spreads (plenty of them don't even have turkey anymore) with a thousand different types of groups (some small, some large, some more family, some more friends, some close acquaintances, some new) and say, we are thankful.

It is the perfect predecessor to the Christmas season. To put an especial emphasis on remembrance of blessings is quite fitting for late November. 

Happy Thanksgiving

Monday, November 25, 2019

I Am Aurora

While I am aware that not everyone loves the Disney princesses, I'm a literature person, so I view everything from that perspective. The earlier princesses were mainly symbolic--and so were their princes. That is, their stories weren't really love stories, only on the surface level. Let that settle in and change your perspective on Disney princesses.

Anyway. I do like Disney. And the princesses are a part of Disney. I used to think that Belle was my Disney princess. She had my brown hair and brown eyes and she liked to read books--and that craving for something more was also something that I had when I was around twelve years old. And then Tiana came out when I was in college and I thought, oh, I want to be Tiana, that's who I should strive for. She was so hardworking. And then Elena of Avalor came out and I thought, she has my brown hair and brown eyes, not Belle--it's a different look.

And now I'm going back again. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney animated films not because I think that it's necessarily the best (though some elements of it are stellar) but because I love the music and the art and the good versus evil theme. And suddenly I find that I am Aurora dancing in the woods.

Aurora, just living her life. She's out there in the woods. She's just a peasant girl picking berries that she knows her aunts don't need. She's just enjoying being out there, dancing and singing and dreaming and making friends with who is around her, even if they're the animals. You could say that oh, she's just thinking about finding a man, putting her life on hold until she meets him, thinking everything will be fine when she does. But that isn't really what she's doing. She looks very happy out there dancing in the woods by herself. She's living her life.

And yet she also is being patient, though she doesn't realize to what extent. Even in her dream about finding someone, she isn't moping or pouting or even searching for him, wondering when she's going to find him. She's perfectly happy to just literally bump into him while she's busy with her animal friends. So she was patiently waiting for him. And she was also, unknown to her, waiting for the day when she would return to her true home, to the castle, and to her father the king. The time is long in coming but when the time comes, Aurora goes in just one night from being the peasant girl in the woods to the princess in the castle. Change is slow to come for her but when it comes, it comes powerfully.

That's how I identify. I'm dancing in the woods, enjoying my life, just being where I am right now. There are good things ahead and I'll enjoy them when they come. But right now I'm going to just enjoy dancing in the woods.

And in a sense, that basic moment is something that many of the Disney princesses share--and something we all share in our lives, as well. That's the inspiration we want to receive. No, it isn't about the princes or the dresses or the castles. It's about living with grace and contentment right where you are. That's what makes the Disney princesses beautiful--that's what makes them princesses.

Which Disney princess do you identify with?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Kat Saka's Kettle: Chocolate Popcorn with Crait Red Salt

From Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu, we bring Chocolate Popcorn with Crait Red Salt. That is, popcorn from Kat Saka's Kettle in Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland. It used to be called popped corn or popped kernels, but after the vocal minority spoke, Disney changed the names of Star Wars food. No more in universe Fried Tip-Yip (described as chicken in the full description) or the like. Now it's Chicken Tip-Yip and part of the fun is gone, even if the average guest won't even notice the difference. Such is life.

Anyway, the Chocolate Popcorn is part of the new food items they introduced a few weeks ago. Initially, they'd started out with just one kind of popcorn, which is now their Outpost Popcorn Mix. It's the colorful one with different flavors, some of which I liked more than others. It was fun to try, I guess, but I didn't care for it too much. Chocolate Popcorn, though? That needed a review from me for sure.

I don't usually (or ever, in fact) get popcorn from Disneyland. I'm not really into all the popcorn butter, popcorn just seems like such an inexpensive and easy thing to make at home instead (I just pop it in a pot and then add salt), and usually if I'm buying I like to spend money at Disneyland on fuel foods and really tempting desserts if I get a dessert or snack. Popcorn just doesn't seem worth it to me. The popcorn at Black Spire is $6.49, which you can compare to $5 for regular popcorn in the rest of the park.

With all of that being said, I would totally buy the Chocolate Popcorn again.

It comes in the usual brown paper bag that Kat Saka uses. Maybe this is part of the reason why I like Black Spire: I just like the earthier aesthetic. Some pieces are coated about medium level, but most are fairly light. So if you're into heavily flavored kettle corn and caramel corn, maybe this won't be for you. But I declare it perfect.

Popcorn is already slightly, almost sweet. So paired with a light layer of chocolate, the popcorn almost becomes a Lucky Charms marshmallow. And suddenly you're eating a light dessert. Just as you're settled in with this light and pleasant snack, you remember that touch of salt on the edges of the flavor, that hint of red you can see on the surface in places. Nothing too strong, just a gentle flavor accent. Salt is easy to overdo and they kept it at the right level. They also found yet another way to bring something in universe into our world. It's from Crait, how cool--but it's also just salt. Perfect.

So I'm totally happy. Get a bag of this to munch while you're wandering around Black Spire Outpost (it's a wandering type of place, it really is, almost not entirely unlike Tom Sawyer Island as an adult) or just before the fireworks start. Now there's a nice image. Standing in front of the Millennium Falcon with the fireworks going off behind the spires and a bag of Chocolate Popcorn from Kat Saka's Kettle in hand. Ah, playing is lovely.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Songs for Healing

I used to hate driving. So after I finally got my license, I found that it helped to turn on music. The music helped give me focus. I just turned on the first Christian radio station I came across and left it there (unless I'm in for a long drive, then I'll tend to switch to bluetooth after a bit and just let my music play on shuffle). Recently I've switched stations because I found out that the other Christian radio station plays many of the same songs but also tends to have more worship songs and less pop songs.

I mean, there's a time for pop songs. And some people like pop songs. But often that time in the car is my time starting my day or ending my day or beginning something new--and it's nice to use that time to center myself in the right direction. So as I started hearing more of the worship songs instead of the pop songs, I also noticed something else.

So many of the top Christian pop songs right now are songs about brokenness. And that's fine. We're all broken and we need to be able to express that and know that other people are going through the same thing. We need to acknowledge the struggle.

But there also comes a moment when after the brokenness, it's time to realign your focus. What now? Now it's time to take your attention off of yourself and onto the One who made you--because he wants us to be whole. The way to overcome whatever struggles, small or large, are getting to you is to look upward. Sometimes too many songs in a row that are all about me don't end up helping me; they just help me to still feel bad about myself. But when the songs are about Him, then I find my spirit lifting.

So here are, not necessarily my favorite Christian songs (well, maybe partly), but my top songs for healing.

Let's start with the brokenness--because there is a place for being broken.

"Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" by Danny Gokey - I had one of those moments a couple months or so ago where it felt like I was hearing this song for the first time because it was speaking directly to me in that moment. Danny Gokey has a way with his music of acknowledging true pain while simultaneously pointing out that God has better things for us.

"Defender" by Francesca Battistelli - If you want to both acknowledge your brokenness and God's goodness and steadfastness, here is the song for you. 

"Burn the Ships" by For King & Country - Start a new day with this song.

"Symphony" by Switch - This is possibly my favorite song of all right now. It's calming and powerful at the same time.

Feeling better now? Okay, let's take it up a notch.

"Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" by Hillsong United - What is the most important thing in your life? If it's God, this song will remind you to keep him most important.

"Raise a Hallelujah" by Bethel Music - Whatever is troubling you doesn't just disappear like magic; something else replaces it. Or rather, Someone. Just reach out.

"Warrior" by Hannah Kerr - This one's kind of a power anthem, basically the expression of "through God all things are possible." 

"You Gave Me a Promise" by Fireflight - Fireflight was one of my favorite bands and I've been rediscovering their music again after letting it sit for a while. They have an immensely powerful way of transforming struggle into strength.

"Live With Abandon" by the Newsboys - Here is another reminder of what matters most--a reminder that makes you feel excited, not obligated or guilty.

Now for the worship.

"How Great Is Our God" and "Resurrection Power" by Chris Tomlin - Okay, I snuck two songs in on one. Together, they're a reminder of God's greatness and the greatness of the fact that God chooses us and empowers us. Isn't that amazing? 

"My Lighthouse" and "Every Giant Will Fall" by Rend Collective - Well, while I'm on track with double songs. Rend Collective brings the aspect of celebration to worship. We're not tired or stiff; we're excited and passionate.

"God of Wonders" by Third Day - What does "God" mean? All powerful and all mighty and all loving.

"What a Beautiful Name" by Hillsong Worship - Give your adoration. 

Lastly, here's the declaration.

"No Longer Slaves" by Bethel Music - When you are healed by the blood of the Lamb, nothing can take that freedom away.

Here's the link to the Spotify playlist, with a few extras in there, too.

I've also been enjoying a bit of reading. Called Magazine has some good articles, and I'd also recommend the Proverbs 24:26 blog--Lily talks in a straightforward way about real issues that Christian women face.

This year I want to move into Thanksgiving with a truly grateful, freed, and loving heart. And I've found that allowing God to heal the hurt deep inside of me that I've tried to keep away from even him is the only way to do that.

What songs have helped you find healing?