Monday, October 26, 2020

These Is my Words

When I bought Nancy E. Turner's These Is my Words at an antique store a while back, I thought maybe I had read the book in middle school or something. It seemed like the type of thing I would have reached for. Certainly, at least, the name and cover felt familiar to me. On finally reading it, I find that no, I have never read this book before--but it is certainly one with which to be familiar. When I read Vanished Arizona from Martha Summerhayes, I felt like that was something for every Arizonan to read. The same goes for this book.

They are somewhat similar and yet completely different. While Sarah Agnes Prine was a real person and Nancy E. Turner based her character on what she knew of her great grandmother, this book is fiction. As I read, I wondered how much was based on fact--a quick Internet look afterwards shows that most of it is indeed fiction (except for historical things like the army's activity--this is still a well-researched book, even if it is fiction). But it reads very real, so real that it could be and so that is therefore quite reflective of real people's lives in the Arizona Territory.

Martha Summerhayes was an outsider who spent some time living in Arizona as an army wife. Her book is a great read and I do recommend it. But Sarah Prine grew up in the West and lived her whole life in its harsh landscape. When I say I love Arizona today, I am well aware of the fact that the Arizona that exists today is nothing like what it was 140 years ago and who I am today would probably not have been at all able to live in that setting. This book is full of love for the place: Sarah made a home and made friends and family and held onto hard work and hope and love. So even when potential opportunities came to leave, she did not want to.

What makes Sarah's love for her home even more real, though, is her portrayal of its negative side, as well. Although she has a touch exterior, she is internally terrified of attacks, whether Native American raids or from outlaws. She is a good worker and willing to do whatever is necessary, but she tires from the physical labor and she wishes for pearls and velvet. She sweeps snakes off of her porch with nary a thought, then weeps to save her daughter from a rattler. Her love of her home is like her love of her husband: she declares her hatred of him as often as her love. She is passionate and honest--and even though she has emerged as a remarkable person, you can also see her brokenness from growing up under such harsh circumstances. 

While the journal style can be reminiscent of the Dear America books (which are targeted at what, 9 to 12 year olds?) just as much as real memoirs and the 1800's setting of Little House on the Prairie, this is decidedly a book for adults. It is much more graphic than either of those series. Attacks (using any definition of the word) happen and injuries happen (it also has more adult love content, though probably less than the average YA book has). It's quite a heartbreaking book, in fact. And yet it's interesting. Sarah Prine is someone who aims only to live her life--and she knows that other people around her are doing the same. So she is just as sad to know of the Native American camp that was attacked as to know of her own wagon train. And when she is in communities with people, she responds to behavior rather than prejudice. She befriends the Chinese family in the wagon train and helps teach them English, she becomes like family to her Mexican neighbors and learns Spanish and recipes from them, and she is the only army wife to host the Yavapai scout. In contrast, she is turned off by the behavior of the snobby ladies on the train, and is exasperated at her brother's wife who proves herself to be rude rather than dainty (and from whom Sarah must defend her friends). So there is sadness in here, but hope, too.

And you know, the love story is nice, too. We all like a good love story.

This book is an interesting story to read because of its historical portrayals. But it is equally moving to read because it is a portrayal of life lived. There are such strong emotions in here. We might all be thinking of different events in our own lives when we are moved by things in Sarah's life, but I think everyone will be touched emotionally. It is a heartbreaking book, and one of the best books I have read. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Chuao: Oh My S'mores

Fall is in the air, isn't it? And with it comes a transitioning of outdoor space. Depending on where you live, this time of year means spending either less or more time outdoors. Either it is finally cool enough to be out or just out to be too cold. Either way, we are on the cusp. Just the time for a chocolate that reflects on time spent outdoors. Maybe it's a summertime camping trip or an autumnal bonfire that most conjures up for you toasted marshmallows and s'mores. Whether you're at the end or the beginning of your own s'more season, today's Oh My S'mores bar from Chuao celebrates the nostalgia.

The images of marshmallows and dripping chocolate and graham crackers don't overpromise: there are in fact whole marshmallows, albeit mini ones, to accompany the graham cracker pieces. So the aroma when you break the seal is quite welcoming: rich confection milk chocolate and deep vanilla. The mini marshmallows are visible scattered on the back of the bar, while various adjectives and exclamations decorate the squares on the front. Really, though, I can't see breaking this one into squares: it's meant for biting into.

The graham crackers are so plenteous in the chocolate that they create a texture that is rough and crumbly rather than the smoothness that chocolate normally has. They are finely ground, small pieces. So the rough texture is pleasant, bringing to mind eating an especially chocolatey cookie. It's all rather saltier than I would have expected (that is, I wasn't expecting any saltiness at all), but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is also not as sweet as I had expected.

Partly that would be because this is 41% milk chocolate, so it's nice and steady and not overly greasy or milky or . . . sweet. I buy Chauo infrequently enough that I can never immediately call to mind what either their standard milk or dark chocolate tastes like. This milk chocolate is quite pleasant (this also reminds me that when I had Chauo milk chocolate hot chocolate versus dark I preferred the milk chocolate). 

With the marshmallows, you get the sweet, familiar flavor along with some softer texture. For such big blobs (in comparison to the thickness of a chocolate bar), they blend in surprisingly well. I thought that they might stand out as an awkward garnish or that it would simply feel like eating marshmallows rather than eating chocolate with marshmallows in it. The effect was the latter, though: the three elements of marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker are all in balance. Granted, of course, how much marshmallow you get will vary with each bite since they're centered and slightly away from the edges. But that's just encouragement to take bigger bites, eh?

And that sums it up, I suppose. This is a casual, fun, nostalgic bar of chocolate. It's nicely done and the ingredients are of enough quality that it passes my test. So I recommend it for the times when you haven't lost control over your taste buds but you do need a sweet chocolate to tear into--perhaps now? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What Are You Listening to?

You see, back in the Pandora days, I thought that I wasn't very interested in Skillet. But I guess tastes change and they also have new music ten years later that they didn't have back then. So I've been listening to their two latest albums a lot lately, but I also like to listen to the concert they did with Lacey Sturm because, you know, Lacey is great. 

In particular, I'm enjoying that performance of "Awake and Alive" (here's the link), which is not in fact on the albums I've been listening to and so it would have been around back in those Pandora days. Those lyrics "Right here, right now . . . I know what I believe inside, I'm awake and I'm alive." Death screams at the door as soon as we are born, and yet we live, we live because we are meant to be still alive, alive to the moment right here and right now in front of us. "In the dark . . . I feel you breathe into me, forever hold this heart that I will give to you, forever I will live for you." There is only One worth living for, only one capable of giving life, all else fails. Where does my strength come from? Where does my hope come from? 

While I have no desire to go to a Skillet concert (one of the reasons why I like going to the opera is because everyone sits nicely in their seats), I do like listening to music like this because I like such positive lyrics. I love all of the light in the dark, the fervent reaching upwards to the light out of black night. As I've said before, I hear the tone of a song more than its genre (although there are definitely genres I don't like, I won't pretend otherwise). So sometimes I find "loud" music like this more calming and strengthening than "quiet" music because it has more hope in it. Oh, yes, and side note, I also identify with how Lacey moves her hands and arms when she sings. 

To provide a second option from a different genre, though, I recently found Seacoast Worship's "You Are Here" (here's the Spotify link), which makes a good companion song to "Awake and Alive." Compare these lyrics: "Holding me when I feel hopeless, only you restore my soul." Or: "You are my comfort, you are my shelter, you are here, healing and power." To stand right here right now because of who walks beside me. Right here, right now. 

We are alive today for a reason. Yesterday has passed away and tomorrow has not yet come. We are right here, right now, in this moment, strong and capable in this moment. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company: Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle

I regret to inform you that I have only had a pumpkin spice latte once. It was several years ago. I was meeting a friend at Starbucks. Being that I don't really go there much, I thought, oh, I'll just get that, people like those (this was before the psl craze was as big as it is today, but still it was around). The first sip scared me and I tried, I did try, but I couldn't drink probably even a third of it. It just tasted like weird-tasting, artificial fright to me. Sacrilege, I know. 

So it was perhaps funny that I jumped on the Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle bar from the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company (hey, this is the third time I've reviewed this company with the trio of chocolates in its name, fancy that). But as I mentioned with the Halloween candy, I do get excited for seasonal chocolate products to review, considering that there are generally so few (or companies might put out the same thing every year, which is fine but doesn't give me anything new to review). It was for sale at Michael's, by the way, and I haven't seen it anywhere else.

I'm sounding like a broken record, but I somehow managed to melt this chocolate bar, too, so that's why there is no picture of it. Probably a safe guess that it would have looked the same as CCCC's other two bars did, though. This time I can solidly way that I'm favoring the packaging. The solid white base with the fall-colored band and the pumpkin and dripping latte hit that heartwarming, comforting vibe. While I may not go for the pumpkin spice lattes, I do often put a fall twist on some hot chocolate at home. (I've said it many times, but here's my hot chocolate recipe: 3/4-1 cup milk/non-milk, 1-2 tsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. honey/sugar, and as you wish also include cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, mint, rose, or whatever else you feel like adding at the moment.)

Back to the chocolate bar. The label says that "pumpkin and espresso are infused into a truffle center and are complemented by natural pumpkin pie spices." The truffle center is pretty much akin to the caramel that was in the Waffle Cone Caramel bar. So that makes this is a fairly similar piece to the Pumpkin Spice Caramel from Ghirardelli. I melted this bar so strangely that almost the entire top four squares melted down over the bottom four squares; this has never happened to me before. I suppose it must have been upright in my purse and it melted there in such fashion. I almost wanted to include a picture just because it was so ridiculous. So my perception of thickness and such is going to be a little off--but that's why I'm glad I've had a caramel chocolate bar from this company before. All indications seem to be that the physical aspect of this one was basically the same as in the Waffle Cone Caramel.

Biting in quickly brings up the familiar spices. Sometimes I imagined more cinnamon and ginger in here than in Ghirardelli's take, but I'm not entirely sure. Again, it's a little hard to tell proportions because of the melting, but there seems to be more pumpkin spice flavor in general here than with Ghirardelli. Possibly more of a pumpkin flavor, too. (Among the ingredients are coffee extract, pumpkin, cinnamon, allspices, nutmeg, ginger, mace, and cloves.) The inclusion of espresso is different, but for once what is normally a strong flavor fades into the background of all the fall spices. Sometimes I taste it; other times I forget it's there. This is fairly accurate for a pumpkin spice latte, though, right? There are so many flavors that coffee doesn't come into the foreground. 

The caramel is a little thicker than Ghirardelli's, but it's fine, also. It adds sweetness and texture. While Ghirardelli's milk chocolate is also very sweet, I do prefer it to this one. (Once more, the ingredients list both milk chocolate and white chocolate--maybe if they just went for a full milk chocolate instead of a blend that would be better?) That's the biggest difference between these two interpretations for me. I may very well like the approach to the spices more here, but I prefer Ghirardelli's chocolate. So it's difficult to compare them. I guess the gist of it is, if you enjoy fall flavors and pumpkin spice, they're both worth buying. I think I do get less of that weird, somewhat artificial taste that normally bothers me with pumpkin spice in this bar. That means that what I've said in the past holds true again: CCCC does well with flavors. That is not a given, even for bigger, more well-known companies. That's why I continue to buy their chocolate when I come across it: I have hope that they'll present me with something pleasant. Oh, yes, and I definitely prefer this Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle Milk Chocolate to the one pumpkin spice latte I have had.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Care to Travel to Batuu?

While I don't necessarily read a lot of travel guides (or any?), I do like to read about local history and the stories and factoids about places. Galaxy's Edge (or Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu) in Disneyland (or WDW, if you're East Coast) I have described as being something like the Petrified Forest (for the petrified wood and the magical quality) and Santa Fe (for the little-town-to-wander-through feeling). It is a real place in my mind. I mean, it is physically a real place. But it's so easy to by into the fantasy of it, to believe that you are truly at Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu. 

So if I like reading books about places and I like Batuu, then how about an in-universe guide book to the planet? The Traveler's Guide to Batuu is labeled as being written by Eloc Throno (in our world, it's actually written by Cole Horton), and the title is in both our alphabet and Aurebesh. While the look of the book is cool, I wasn't immediately in. I didn't feel like I needed a list of the menu at Oga's Cantina or the shops in the Marketplace. I already know those things and can view them at the Disneyland website/app. I'm quite glad that I went for it despite my misgivings, though. 

This book isn't as contrived as I had anticipated. Yes, it lists drinks at Oga's and food at Docking Bay 7. And many of us already know some of the Easter egg backstories that this book explains. Things like the Wishing Tree or the blaster marks in Oga's from Thrawn. But there were some new things in here, too. More backstories in the merchants, for instance--even an explanation of why the cool woodcarving vendor at the end of the Marketplace is never open. So for the new tidbits and even for the ones we had already heard, it was fun to hear these backstories told in the same style that they would be in a guidebook. Not only does it make for a handy trivia guide so you can easily remember facts to share with your friends next time you're all in Batuu together, it also just adds to the feeling of this being a real place.

As I read, I felt like I was walking among the spires again. Things that the author describes I could recall seeing--or sometimes wonder why I hadn't paid much attention to them before. I kept revisiting it all. Black Spire Outpost is beautiful and full of detail. This book celebrates all that. It does take a couple too many tangents to describe ships and the First Order and things like that that we already have plenty of info about in the movie visual guides. I could have done without that content; it seemed like it was only there to bulk out the book. Otherwise, though, I had great fun, and would recommend this little piece for fellow fans of Black Spire Outpost. 

May the spires keep you. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Dragons in the House

Sylvia has been wanting me to put up her favorite Bible verse, Psalm 148:7. Gotta love the King James Version for still using the word "dragon." (And if you find that this word delegitimizes the Bible, look up "dragon" in a pre-1950's dictionary. It only became a fantasy-only word in the last few decades. Which is why the King James Version, while my favorite in a lot of ways, is also fairly out of date as far as diction, and this is of course why they continue to make new Bible translations with more modern vocabulary.)

The little wooden plaque is from Michael's; it was less than two dollars after tax and it comes with the little hanging string, so it's a good buy for random projects like this. I liked that it was wood so that I could just add the painted text without needing to also paint the whole background. Sylvia seemed pleased with how it turned out.

Right now, it just hangs with Sylvia's lights. I did want it on the wall because it would also go well with the artwork I have there, but I'm not sure if I have the right space for it. The art is from Carolyn Schmitz of Prescott. She does these wonderful pieces of animals wearing jewelry and hats composed of desert elements: cactus pads, mesquite pods, devil's claw, rattlesnake rattles, scorpions, etc. Beautiful and silly at the same time. Classy whimsy, if you will. Perfect for someone who sticks up Bible verses about dragons above her bearded dragon's house. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Ghirardelli: Fall Assortment

Winding up my trio of Halloween chocolate candies is a set that is not specifically Halloween but simply fall-themed. Ghirardelli squares are a sturdy standby for any time of year, and usually any seasonal approach that Ghirardelli does is light. There are three flavors in here, two which are standard (Caramel and Fudge Caramel) and only one seasonal (Pumpkin Spice Caramel). Pumpkin Spice can of course take you all the way from September through November.

On one hand, this would also seem not to be a Halloween bag because who would want to give away Ghirardelli squares or even put them in your Halloween candy bowl--they're too expensive, right? But they fall right in between the prices of the other two. So yes, this is more expensive than a bag of KitKats, but still at a standard price for its genre, shall we say. If you use the Nutrition Facts to estimate, there should be 14 squares in here, which would be 34 cents each; again, I don't know if I somehow miscounted out of daftness, but I only counted 13, which would be 36 each (I paid about $4.79 for the bag). So if you're doing maybe a mini trick-or-treating event just for your family or keeping them in your candy bowl, the price isn't unreasonable.

This is the least decorated bag of the three. A rich brown color and some leaves, pumpkins, and acorns in the corners make up the whole of the theming, and there is nothing on the individual wrappers. While this is consistent with Ghirardelli's usual style, I do wish they had at least decorated the Pumpkin Spice Caramel wrappers differently. Maybe a couple pumpkins on there? Or at least a different color to distinguish them from the Fudge Caramels.

Those Fudge Caramels were the ones I started with. It's milk chocolate filled with caramel that tastes more strongly of vanilla than you might normally get in a caramel. It's a sweet, confection treat. The plain Caramel has more of a standard caramel flavor. Ghirardelli's caramel is soft but also not quite free-flowing or liquid; it's a nice balance between the two approaches. It's good, I say with a shrug.

What we're really all here for is the Pumpkin Spice Caramel. If they weren't going to do other fall flavors, as well (maybe apple cider), they could have just made the whole bag Pumpkin Spice. That's what people are after, anyway. That is, I'm after it because it's the seasonal flavor. Normally I'm not too much into the pumpkin spice craze.

There is already a pumpkin spice aroma even before biting in. When you do, you'll find a caramel base pretty much the same as the regular one, except that is infused with that distinctive pumpkin spice flavor. I taste cloves and cinnamon and ginger and maybe cardamom--the usual suspects. It's nice. As I've alluded to before, these are some of the same pieces you would use for chai tea and I do much enjoy a good chai. It's all nice and warm and sweet. In fact, the sweetness of the milk chocolate helps to ground the spices in the way that sugar and milk would in a chai latte. The caramel makes for a good base, as well.

While pumpkin spice by definition does not necessitate the inclusion of pumpkin, there is something of a taste in here of what comes across to me as artificial pumpkin flavor--whether or not that is what it actually is. If you are one with the pumpkin spice, this might just taste like fresh pumpkin pie to you. To me, it's just a little off. So we have another of those instances where you'll know best if this chocolate is for you. It's a nice approach to pumpkin spice; I'm enjoying it. But if someone had a candy bowl of these three flavors, I'd probably choose one of the other caramels and leave the pumpkin for others. Not a disappointment; just a preference. The disappointment here is that there is only one fall flavor in this assortment, but it is otherwise a pleasant bag of chocolates.