Monday, June 18, 2018

Dreaming Your Universe

Ashley Eckstein, voice of Ahsoka Tano and founder of Her Universe, the company that started all of the great Star Wars, Doctor Who, Marvel, etc. clothing for women. Now she has a book out about her journey towards achievement. As you can tell from the title, though, It's Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make It Happen isn't exactly an autobiography. Ashley is writing directly to her audience and letting them know how they, too, can make their dreams reality.


It's a YA book, so it's short and succinct and styled in that casual way that reminds me of a magazine. There are sections of blank lines scattered throughout where Ashley encourages her reader to make lists or otherwise write things down that will help with planning out a dream. Lots of pictures, too. A few of Ashley, maybe at different stages in her life that she's talking about--like her early trips to Disney World or the first time she put on a Her Universe fashion show at SDCC. Plenty of the images are illustrations with Disney imagery.

The style of the book ties in Disney stories with life lessons. And sure, much of this content is, well, nothing that you'd call new exactly. It's all great advice that I've mainly heard before. However, it remains wonderful advice to have collected here and put out in such a straightforward and honest way. Sometimes just because you know that, oh, you have to work hard and not give up and come up with multiple plans to achieve something, etc. doesn't mean that you don't need a reminder of all that. Sometimes you need to hear again that even though you feel like you just lost a big opportunity, the reason you lost that opportunity might be because there is an even better one coming up.

And also this book was a reminder that just because I know certain things doesn't mean that everyone else does, too. Especially here is where it helps that, even though any age can read this book, the target audience is mainly pre-teen and teen girls. Reading this was a reminder that there are still people figuring things out, making realizations about the world and about themselves and their place in the world, people still trying to plan out what their contribution will be. It's a reminder that for every good thing you figure out for yourself, you need to share that with other people, too. If you've achieved something, help other people achieve something, too (which doesn't just mean achieving a dream like starting a company or something; it can simply be achieving contentment in life or the ability to smile daily). And that's exactly what Ashley does with this book.

I knew only a little bit about Ashley's story and though she doesn't go into great detail here (probably partly because it's all recent history and partly because she doesn't want the focus to just be about her), there were still plenty of interesting stories to hear, from her early acting work to her job at Disney World as a teenager to the casting call that led to Ahsoka. In hearing her talk about starting up Her Universe, I realized that I had kind of forgotten just how much Her Universe changed things. It was years ago now that I found that Darth Vader dress from them that I just thought was the most awesome thing--and now dresses like that are so common that I've almost forgotten what it was like before they existed. The shirts and the accessories, too. So much variety. It's funny: if you watch Fresh Baked shopping at Disneyland, David sometimes talks about how there is such better Star Wars clothing for women than for men. Ashley started that. And in this book, she mentions one of the statistics she found when she was researching starting Her Universe; it has to do with the greater percentage of sales being from women than from men. So . . . even though of course there should be great merch for men, too, well, it does make sense that nowadays there is so much more for women--because we definitely buy it.

And this all made me think about not just clothing. Ashley talks about these stories of girls who had been bullied, etc. for liking things like Star Wars. So much has changed in the last few years, hasn't it? Part of it has been because of Disney acquiring Star Wars--but the thing is, Ashley was stirring things up at right about that time. You had the character of Ahsoka introduced just before that and you had Ashley realizing that she could use her influence as Ahsoka to make some changes. And then we started getting all these things like those Forces of Destiny toys that are just like Barbies (a "girl toy") except that they're characters like Leia and Rey (they're so wonderful and exciting that I just had to get the Endor Leia one). It's cool and what I mean to say also is that it's amazing how one piece of influence can keep on having an effect.

Dream it and do it kind of also means that every action you take has power. You have power for passivity or power for influence. We all have a role to play and all of these roles work together in one great web that connects everyone, person to person.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Black Butterfly: Banana Toffee Crunch & Bonbons

Last time I was in Prescott, I made my stop at Black Butterfly to see what I could see. I thought that I was in Prescott often, but the infrequency with which I now seem to go to Black Butterfly would make things appear otherwise. And did you know that the shop has just had its one year anniversary this week? How time flies.

I picked out two flowers from the case, the Champagne & Roses and the Violet Creme. Sometimes I don't pay as much attention to the medallions because I look to the truffles first, but in truth these are wonderful, as well, so I thought I should give them a bit of attention this time. This little disc of chocolate came with rose petals on top, sugared and dried. So you get rose flavor from the dried petals and also some crunch of sugar. The champagne adds perhaps a bit of richness. A light and feminine medallion.


The Violet Creme is feminine, as well, although perhaps not light in the same way as the Champagne & Roses. Violet is, after all, a stronger and more in-your-face flavor than rose (which is not to say that I dislike violet at all, quite the contrary). Violet also brings even more of that classic and vintage feel. Once again, sorry that the purple and blue heart didn't photograph as nice as it looked when I bought it: it's hard to get these home in exactly the original condition, especially now that we're in warm weather season. The flavor of this truffle is truly delightful. This is the type of piece that's perfect and flawless as a simple product because the flavor that it does contain are wonderful. The violet brings in that strong, distinctive flavor and the chocolate adds the right balance of warmth and richness. I don't know if it's just because it's the one that I have with me right now, but I think this one might be one of my favorites from Black Butterfly so far.

And now to the toffee. I heard this name and knew I had to get it. Banana Toffee Crunch. Yes, that is for me, for me specifically. I already like toffee (because it crunches and it has that classic sweet taste to it). And I always get excited over banana with chocolate because it's a pairing you don't see too often, banana being easy to work into an ice cream sundae but more difficult to bring into a chocolate bar or a truffle.


In this case, the banana is in the form of banana chips. While banana chips wouldn't work for every product, here they're just right since the chocolate already has crunch from the toffee. So a little more crunch blends right in. The seven ounce bag comes with one-to-two-bite pieces, easy for sharing while you're hanging out with a group under the trees at the Square or great for keeping at your desk to munch on like chips. Depending on which you get, banana or toffee or feulletine (which is also in here to make up a third element), each bite is a little different. The toffee adds that familiar toffee flavor and sticky-crunch texture; it's in nice and small pieces. The banana comes in with almost more of an unexpected but fitting flavor since, once again, you don't come across banana in chocolate much and yet the flavors do go so well together. I don't normally notice the feulletine distinctly on its own, except sometimes when I find a piece after the chocolate has melted away. This is one of those instances, though, where I say that I would probably notice if it weren't there.

Rather than trying out something new (which is great, too, of course), this time I just zeroed in on the things that I know make me happy. Flowers and toffee. Nice and simple and yet also well-done (because of course simple does not necessarily mean that something will be well-done). Also pretty and light, which feels perfect for this transitioning-into-summer season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Fates Divide

I'm already doing a terrible job at keeping up with the new books (and not new books) that I want to read, but I enjoyed Veronica Roth's Carve the Mark so much that I took the time to reread it before its sequel, The Fates Divide, came out this spring.


Disappointing thing was, I couldn't get into the new book. There was so much more focus on characters I didn't care for, namely Isae. There was more of a political side to the content this time (and mainly it was Isae and politics together, so that made whole chapters of very little interest to me). And even characters I did like or relationships I did like (like Cyra and Akos) were just dwelling in content I didn't care for (honestly, it felt "general YA" to me rather than what I had come to think of as specifically Veronica Roth). So the book sat for, well, months, with my bookmark about a third or so of the way in. I had other things to do than read and then I had other things to read.

Finally when I picked it up again, it got better. Turns out, I'd left off right at that turning point in a book when the tone and pace change. It returned to more of what I wanted. And I can't complain about the ending. There were, let's see, two main things that happened in the plot that I kind of predicted the second before they happened. Which means that they were things that the entire plot beforehand pointed toward but things that were difficult to guess before all of the pieces moved into place. So it all went in a good direction.

I can't really complain, then. And I'm not. I do think, though, that the best part of this story remained in the first book, along with certain pieces of this second book that tie it all in. (I'm being intentionally vague here rather than talk too much about plot.) The first book was the one with all of those great questions about character and guilt and justice and pain and duty and personal choice, etc. All of that came into play in here, as well, just not in quite the same way. In the first book, everything was fresh and sharp. Here, maybe it felt like most of the important character things were done; we just had to finish up some plot things. (I didn't think of this while I was reading, but I wonder if that means that this story was originally just one book instead of two and that it was the publishers who wanted it stretched out into two for obvious reasons.) Not that there was no plot: there was plot. And like I said, I like the direction it all went to in the end.

The idea of fate sounds worse than it is. Personal choice still exists. Positive and negative still exist; sometimes knowing how to be part of one or the other, well, that can be more complicated. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Disneyland Adventures: Part 2

I had been hearing such tell of so many Disneyland foods that I had never tried. So for this trip, I had a mental list of many, many foods I wanted to get to--if I could fit them all in during just a short day and a half visit.

To maximize time, as well, I decided to go for the bringing-things-to-snack-while-you-walk-in method for breakfast, which would probably also allow for two lunches instead of just one. This method also meant that, only by the time we were making out way from Hyperspace Mountain and Star Tours over to the west side of the park, I was getting hungry again. And there was no line for Dole Whips, so I thought, hey, why not just get one now.

I'd never had a Dole Whip before. I was too excited to even get a picture of the pretty yellow swirl; I just started eating it instantly. And it is kind of fascinating, almost more like a popsicle than an ice cream. Nice and light, a little tangy. I did kind of eat it quickly quickly (which is unlike me) because I was expecting there to be a little bit of a line for Splash Mountain by this point in the morning but there was barely an inch of a line (maybe it had opened late that morning).

Since I don't have a picture of the Dole Whip, here is a picture of the Jungle Julep.


The Jungle Julep is not as exciting as the Mint Julep that you can get in New Orleans Square. That mint and lime drink is lovely; this one was okay. It was more of a slushy drink, with a fruit candy type of flavor. Pretty, though. I had the Jungle Julep because first lunch of the day (around 11:30 maybe?) was at Bengal Barbecue, another place I had never tried. The chicken skewer was good; I would get that again. But the vegetable one was disappointing, especially after I had heard that oh, they're so wonderful, the only way to get people to eat vegetables who don't usually like vegetables. The squash were fine, the onions I would have preferred cooked a little more (I stopped eating them before the end), I don't like peppers (so I didn't eat much of those, either), and the potatoes mainly tasted like cheap potatoes to me (which probably just means that they weren't organic--because yes, I can often tell--with bananas, too--I'm not trying to be snobby, there's just a taste difference).

And a Disneyland corndog? I had never had one of those. So second lunch was one from DCA. Which is funny because, well, yes, it was good, but there is also a limit to how good a corndog can be. Anyways, if the hot dog itself were better quality, then the whole thing would have been better, too. But yes, sure, it was good as corndogs go.

Dinner, by the way, was a Mint Julep and a Monte Cristo and a beignet at New Orleans Cafe. Classic.

Day two started with a ride on Autopia and then the opening of Toontown for the day (more on that later). And then breakfast from Jolly Holiday Bakery enjoyed at one of the tables there in Toontown, which was really perfect. It was that moment where I was so hungry that a croissant with egg and bacon (I always end up taking bacon out and yet I didn't this time; that's telling) and some fruit on the side was just the best thing ever. And watching Toontown in the morning before it's full of people? Somewhere on the line between peaceful and whimsical, a special tone.

Lunch that day was at Rancho del Zocalo, where, you know, I got the tostada salad for the shorter line and because tostada salads basically have all the ingredients that other dishes have, anyway. Nothing remarkable but it was good; I'd go there again if I didn't have anything else I particularly wanted to try.

And then the last thing. The last thing I ate at the parks was from Red Rose Tavern, where I went just to get the Grey Stuff and Gaston's Brew.


The dessert is white chocolate mousse served up on a thin sugar cookie. Hiding inside of that big swirl is cake, red velvet, I suppose. Not the absolute most amazing dessert I've ever had; mainly I had to get it because I had to have it while I had the opportunity. But it was nice and I enjoyed it. If I hadn't just had lunch, I would have been able to finish it myself; otherwise, I recommend sharing. And the brew? It's a fruity drink that's maybe not as good as the Mint Julep but is a better option for a drink than, well, standard soda and lemonade and iced tea options. The main thing about it is the way it looks: just like a foamy beer. (The foam had fallen a bit by the time I took the picture; it looked even better freshly made.)

Want to put a cap on the experience? Don't drink it at Red Rose. Walk with it to your next destination and see what kind of reactions you get from the people around you. That'll be its own entertainment.

There are times when you visit Disneyland and you just seek out the least expensive, quickest, most fueling food. It was really nice to get to try out all of these different things that I wanted, without limits. Another dash of sugar on the experience that made this trip so much fun.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Han & Lando

I did at least start reading Daniel Jose Older's Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel before watching Solo. I wasn't able to finish before the movie, though, but honestly, I don't think that mattered. Some books do set things up for the movie; Catalyst before Rogue One was a great example of that. This one kind of introduced you to the tone and to L3, but that's about it.


Remember how, with the movie, I said that it played out like a side scene that could have been part of a bigger story but that I just didn't overly care about as its own separate movie? There's a similar feeling in the tone of the book as with the movie--except that this was just another book among many. So in the case of the book, I was fine with just reading a random adventure. This book was fun in a casual way. I kept on forgetting who characters were each time I picked up the book again, but that didn't really matter too much: I just kept rolling with it all.

Not that it was an entirely meaningless plot. This plot was big enough that I can see other stories referring to it in the future. Though the book was a prequel to the movie, it's split between taking place pre-A New Hope and post-Return of the Jedi. And you know what that means?

Toddler Ben Solo. Toddler Ben Solo. I totally would have read this book just to get those scenes with toddler Ben Solo because they created a great character there and I always love getting these little hints at his background. Specifically, his background with his parents. Leia, the nurturing one. Han, the one who cares but just feels like he can't. Leia, the one Ben couldn't shoot down. Han, the Ben lightsabered with tears in his eyes. He thought he was killing the past but all he was killing was his father. So all of those little bits and pieces about Ben and about Han and Leia were great.

This book moved at a good pace. The pacing and the lightheartedness (which is maybe an odd word to use given that the plot did involve mutilation and potential genocide or whatever) made it an easy read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Disneyland Adventures: Part 1

Like an ache it begins: the longing to return to Disneyland. It had been nearly three years since I'd been, which I realize isn't actually a long time--but it feels like a long time to me. So earlier this month, I up and went to Disneyland for a magical one and a half days. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Maybe I could have spent longer there if I had waited, but I needed to go in May because, well, I had to ride Hyperspace Mountain and the original announcement said the retheming of Space Mountain would only be back during the month of May. And I knew that the whole retheming thing wasn't the greatest thing in the world (I did ride Ghost Galaxy a few years back, which uses the same projection system, and really wasn't the greatest), but I still had to ride this silly ride. I've had dreams of going on this ride, my longing for it has been that great.

And yes, Disneyland is much greater than Star Wars or even Space Mountain. I'm not saying that a Star Wars element is the most important thing about Disneyland. Certainly not. But I won't deny that I was unabashedly excited for this one ride--and so I made it my first ride on the first day.

Oh, my goodness, it did not disappoint. Sure, I can see why locals would tire of it. But that first ride? It was amazing and I smiled the whole time. A familiar ride, a ride in which I know every turn and every beat, became something new. You're not just seeing projections of ships; you really are in the middle of a battle, with a plot and everything. You're dodging this and aiming for that and there are not just ships but also shots ringing out through the air. And it's like this big game that you're playing in, like you're a child with all your toys again except that this time the toys are a whole attraction system of vehicles and lights and projections, etc.

I started off my day at Disneyland with a smile. I'd done the silly number one thing that I'd wanted to do, so I knew that nothing could go wrong and everything would be wonderful. That's how Disneyland is: it's a place where you decide that you're going to have a good time. And so whatever happens, you're riding that wave of enthusiasm. You smile at it all because you've decided that it's all going to make you smile.

Ah, Disney magic.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo's Going Solo

The non-spoilery comment on Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it was forgettable and more shallow than I am accustomed to getting from a Star Wars universe story.

Now for the more detailed comments that you'll want to save for later if you haven't watched the movie yet.

It is true that I wasn't expecting much from this movie and that I wasn't excited for it. I thought that out of all of the possible angles to take for a new film, focusing on Han Solo's early days was the most boring one. So when you go into a movie with that attitude, anything that is good you enjoy and you tend to focus less on or be less disappointed by anything that isn't. I expected little and I got a little, so it worked.

Opening crawl. Everyone said that Rogue One was the movie that actually needed an opening crawl, so I do like the way that Solo avoided the traditional opening crawl of the saga films while still giving a piece of that effect. That was good.

Han's last name. Um, that naming story sounds good if you're a middle schooler writing a short story. But not here. It was overly contrived. Maybe it Han had chosen his own last name it might have worked. But to have an Imperial officer name him? No. An Imperial wouldn't care enough to put thought into naming an unnamed someone, and this officer had probably come across many unnamed someones with no family connections so Han wouldn't have stood out as someone to give a cool lone wolf name to. Anyway, Solo isn't the only Star Wars name that has character meaning (I always liked Finis Valorum, or "the end of valor"), so to draw attention to the meaning of his name, to me, felt like detracting from it rather than enhancing it.

The movie was fun. Sure. I kept on kind of waiting for it to gain some sort of significance, even though I had to remind myself that it probably wouldn't (and it didn't). So it kind of plays out like one long side sequence. You know, a plot thread within a film that in itself doesn't mean too much but is a cool bit. Except that that was the whole movie. A whole movie made out of a little side story.

I don't normally bring up things like this, but I'm starting to agree with everyone: why are all of the main female characters in Star Wars movies white Brits? (Okay, they're not all Brits, but the recent ones are. And yes, not everyone, we're mainly talking about just three characters here.) Nothing against any of the individual actresses. And with Rey, sure, we did want someone who could look like she was a Skywalker just for all of that early speculation. But Qi'ra? She could have had any look. Unless (I have to mention it) they still want us to speculate that she's Rey's mother (if, you know, she and Han met up again some years later). They did, after all, give her the name (just spelled differently) that they'd originally used for Rey's character (but every female character in Star Wars has been getting some version of the name Kira lately). Not that I at all subscribe to that theory, but it has to cross our minds, right?

Lando. I don't know if it's because I watched Star Wars from a young age, but I never had much interest in Lando. The whole suave thing never caught me. And honestly, I always thought of him as the new guy, the guy who had kind of been the bad guy but was now the good guy. However, Donald Glover was pretty great as Lando. The charisma, accompanied by the humor of the over-the-topness got me this time. And Han? Han also never overly interested me as a character on his own--so I literally have no comments to make about Han in this movie.

Corellia. We've head that Han is from Corellia, but this is the first time any of the films have shown the planet. I always enjoy the chance to see how "regular people" are living, so the Corellia scenes were kind of cool. Han is a person who grew up during the Empire's reign; what did that look like? How did he get by? How did other people get by? It reminds me of the images of Jedha in Rogue One and of the Lothal content in Rebels. Seeing these young people (not just Han and Qi'ra, the others, too) trying to survive and seeing what the transportation center is like helped color in the image of life under the Empire. I liked that.

Chewbacca's introduction I liked, too. That kind of caught me by surprise. Kessel? I mean, the shots of the Falcon going through the whole maelstrom thing looked cool, but we finally saw the infamous Kessel run and saw how Chewbacca got his life debt to Han and that was all we got? I'm the one who said there were more interesting stories to pursue and yet I felt like there was more content here to flesh out. We didn't even get a single mention of the life debt, after all (and there's a whole canon novel named after it, too, so it doesn't make sense to me to not bring it up).

And Darth Maul. Ha, ha, who doesn't like that he had a cameo? It would seem that we'll be seeing more of him in the future, too.

Hmm. These are all just random, disjointed comments because my only cohesive comments are what I said in the beginning: this film was shallow and unmemorable. I remember with Rogue One, I didn't think that I would like the movie that much after hearing that it would be more of a war film but I was also looking forward to seeing what they did with a Star Wars movie apart from the saga. And they delivered something with significance, something that brought that Star Wars feel even while it brought other things, too. Solo didn't bring much of a Star Wars feel. I'm not saying that it all needs to be about putting your life on the line for the rebellion and all that. But we need that important character moments and the beautiful cinematography and the nature imagery and . . . I don't know. Something else. They tried by putting in the Cloud Riders, but that felt slightly contrived and not connected enough with the current story in order to give the current story heart; all that gave was a sort of nod to the rebellion with which we're all familiar. And when I say that stories don't need to be all about life for the rebellion, the books and TV shows are the examples of that. There are other stories that have that feeling, even if they're not about Cassian and Jyn stealing the Death Star plans or Luke defeating the Emperor by throwing aside his lightsaber or whatnot.

It's a cool idea to have Star Wars films apart from the Saga. There is so much to explore. And they don't all have to be as good as your favorite Star Wars film. But what's the point in having so many new movies if they have such a small, fleeting significance? What did Solo really add to the mix? Very little.