Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reflections on Age

I'm always edging myself older than I am. Not to appear older or because I want to be older. Not quite that.

It's more probably that it used to be the usual thing for me to be the youngest person in a group. Those September birthdays mean that you either start kindergarten a little early or kind of late; I started early. So I was usually one of about three youngest people in my grade. I started college when I was seventeen--and in college, sure, there are other seventeen year olds but there are also people in their mid and late twenties and up. So I was always the younger person--and also the seemingly even younger person given that I am small and apparently do look up to ten years younger than I am depending on context.

So I guess I was accustomed for a while to being at a certain stage past what people my age were at. I graduated college at twenty-one. Sure, plenty of people do that and some are even younger, but still that's generally a little young.

Nowadays I find myself in so many different contexts and around so many different age groups. I used to have just one setting; now I have four or five. In some, I'm the older person. In others, I'm the younger person. In others, I think that I'm about the same age as the people around me--until I sit and think about it and remember that they're probably in their thirties and I'm still in my twenties. And then that makes me realize that in my head I'm nearly thirty but in actuality I'll only be twenty-seven this year and so I'm really only in my mid-twenties. And yet there I am so quick to consider myself already in my late twenties that I already think I'm just around the corner from thirty.

But I feel like I'm at that age where I do mentally align myself more with people in their early thirties than people in their early twenties. (Not, of course, to say that everyone is a certain way at a certain age. Of course there is variation among individuals; I just mean that in general certain things are more the case at certain ages than others.) People in their early twenties are still in that absorption stage: they're still looking bright-eyed at the world and taking it all in and feeling like there is so much in it for them. People in their early thirties have more of an idea of daily living.

I'm not, in saying that, trying to say that I'm all "responsible adult." (That is a completely separate concept.) I'm saying that I carry with me more of the mindset of the constant positives and negatives that are in life. Nothing will ever appear perfect and nothing will ever be all bad. Each day, you have your tasks to complete (literally and mentally) and your decisions to make. And I think it's that as you live more days, you become more aware of all of those days as a fabric. They all thread together to make one piece, so even if one seems to go over a bit rough it won't ruin the whole thing because there are all of those other pieces, too. It's what it all comes together to express that makes for the important part.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Desert Dinos

While I do work with the dinosaurs and therefore the temporary Dinosaurs in the Desert exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo was somewhat our competition, similar things don't have to be competition, right? They all work together to keep up interest in a topic or to combine to make everything greater and more interesting. And you can never have enough dinosaurs. So I had to make it over before the exhibit closed this month. It was in the mid to upper nineties, but I decided I didn't mind--and the weather made it the perfect time to go because I got to be alone with the dinosaurs.

The setup is pretty cool. You're walking along and you see this around the bend:

It's a Carnotaurus, the flesh-eating bull, just perched there on the top of a slight hill and looking down at you. 

Around another bend, an Ankylosaurus waited among the saguaros. 

These guys looked like raptors, but they're actually Coelophysis. They looked pretty awesome with the rocks in the back and the saguaros and teddy bear cholla all around; they also made their honking/barking sounds to one another to communicate while out on their hunt. 

You can tell I don't usually take selfies, but I had to get at least one, right? 

Approaching the Quetzalcoatlus is an intimidating thing. The huge feathered serpent has a beak like the ones people used during the time of the bubonic plague. It's a nightmare-like creature that towers above everyone. 

And beneath it: baby feathered serpents. 

What's that in the bushes up ahead? 

Look out, it's a Utahraptor! Honestly, I was quite taken with this one. It reminded me of the ostriches at Out of Africa; I love to admire their claws because they remind me of dinosaurs--so I guess this all brought me full circle to have the dinosaur now remind me of the ostriches. All feathers and claws, this beauty was one I wanted to keep. 

Almost at the end, a baby T-Rex stood underneath a tree. Its striped tail matched that of its much taller parent . . . 

. . . which was the full-grown King of the Tyrant Lizards. I stared him down for a while, imagining the power of those teeth and that jaw and imagining this animal as a giant chicken--which is quite a terrifying image if you've ever seen a chicken go chasing after a junebug to eat it. 

And that was the last of the dinosaurs. I did skip quite a few here for simplicity's sake; these were just my favorites. 

The dinosaurs were great because dinosaurs are always great. They didn't have quite as much detail or move quite as well perhaps as some other dinosaurs that I know, but that's because this was an outdoor and temporary exhibit versus an indoor and permanent one. And these were still a lot of fun. The setting, too, really made this exhibit. As you know, I love the desert. So to have these dinos just hanging out among all the cactus plants and trees and orange-toned dirt just made it something special. Honestly, too, having it all to myself on that hot day was awesome, too: it let each one catch me by surprise as I turned each corner and it let me unleash my imagination more to picture myself out in the wild with living creatures. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Stone Grindz: Hacienda Victoria 85%

Maybe it was the name of this bar that drew me in. "Hacienda" reminds me of the Southwest, the land that means home. "Victoria" reminds me of the Victorian era, my favorite historical and literary era. And as I mention, the 85% cocoa content range often ends up being one of my favorites, as well. Everything, in this strange misuse of logic, just seemed to add up correctly.

Stone Grindz sourced the cocoa from this bar from western Ecuador. There is some additional information on the inside of the card box about the cocoa variety (Nacional Arriba Ecuador) and the cocoa farm from which it came (Hacienda Victoria). The tasting notes are almond butter, raisin, and toast. The chocolate's aroma is perfect: it brings that silvery scent that is light yet also rich and smooth.

Most definitely this chocolate tastes of raisins. Almost immediately you get that deep, dark, dried fruit flavor. While raisins aren't necessarily my favorite food (I guess I do like them on their own, just not baked into anything, you know? I know I'm not alone in this opinion), the raisin flavor note in chocolate tends to be quite nice. In this case, it becomes a little springier and redder after a moment, then a hint of bitter zing sweeps by. This zing comes across not "bitter," though, simply as raisin richness. A sort of sweet taste comes in towards the end, like some kind of sweet spice. The finish is smooth and tender in flavor.

The line between rich and sweet. The place between bold and light. The moment between calm and action. That is this chocolate, balanced at a perfect place that simply feels like purity. This is the kind of chocolate that makes you fall in love with it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Springtime at the Desert Botanical Garden

Springtime in the desert means cactus flowers, the scent of desert marigolds in the air, and bright yellow flowers topping the green branches of the palo verde trees.

Springtime at the Desert Botanical Garden, when caught at just the right moment, also means that the Texas Mountain Laurel has its purple flowers, the ones that smell like grape soda.

I sat for a while and watched this bird perched in the sunlight. There was also a lizard nearby; it was unbothered by my presence and held still while a couple of other people passed right by it without even seeing it. 

The blossoms were mainly unopened and only just starting to come out when I was there last week.

The wildflower path is perfectly suited toward this time of year. 

Bunnies, too, were plentiful, hopping about and hoping to be unseen and darting for cover when they suspected they'd been spotted. 

The ocotillo are awesome when they get their red tips. They're like thin hands holding bright bouquets.

And those yellow flowers I was talking about? Here they are:

A closer look reveals something else, too. This little guy was sitting up in the branches, munching away.

Life, life everywhere.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Das Rheingold

Perhaps I should be calling these posts "an outsider's view on attending the opera." The more I watch, the more I remember that I know absolutely nothing about opera. But that's okay: it just goes to show that you don't need to already know anything in order to go and enjoy a good show.

So. Wagner's Das Rheingold. From the Lord of the Rings-esque descriptions of this one, I had a feeling it would be one not to miss. An opera that's also a fantasy about nymphs and magical gold (that can be formed into a ring that ends up being cursed) and dwarfs and giants? Awesome, right? And it was. The first act probably was my favorite because, well, nymphs are great--and having them float around live in front of you in a sea of mist while singing opera just makes them even better. All of the fantasy elements were great fun to watch.

The production choices were fascinating, too. The orchestra sat up on stage, and the orchestra pit could then be used for some of the other performers in certain scenes. For instance, it was the water in which the nymphs swam and played. A high platform ran the width of the stage above the orchestra so that performers could be up there above the musicians. And the giant screen was back on the far end of the stage, providing backdrops that moved with the rhythm of each scene. They did also use the semi-transparent screen that drops in front of the stage; projections on the screen allowed you to see the orchestra behind it while also seeing the images. And the giants. They stood towards the front of the stage (well, actually above what would be the orchestra pit) and in front of a small camera; this camera was linked to a big screen on one side of the stage that showed them live but in like black and white night vision or something like that. It gave them a creepy, WWI, Borg look. Rather than making the story feel "modern" (which I say in a negative sense--or I suppose I could just say "too modern" or "modern in the wrong way"), these elements just kept it all interesting and fresh (even though, since this was my first introduction to this opera, it wasn't exactly stale to me--but something can still feel fresh even if it's only new to you personally).

The singers were wonderful. The giants had this striking way of projecting. And Loge had my attention the way he gave flourishes to both his singing and his movement. The music? It was . . . good. It just . . . dragged. Before the show started, I overheard a conversation in which one person asked the other if they had to stay for the whole thing because they didn't want to listen to Wagner for that long. And after seeing the show, well, I get it. Instead of having the usual intermission, the opera was presented as one two and a half hour piece with just the four acts but no intermission, no breaks. Just one long piece. And whereas some operas have more recognizable "songs" in them, pieces that a singer or group of singers perform, all of the music here just kind of flowed into one long, unbroken train. Opera audiences usually clap all throughout at the different pauses. Here there was literally no clapping until the show water over; that was strange. So I do have to say that the long, drawn out style of the music and how it was put together didn't entirely suit me.

This show, then, had that double effect: on one hand it was wonderful to watch, and on the other I kept wondering how much longer until it was over. It was a lot to take in without pauses and yet still it did end up being one not to miss.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Zak's Chocolate: Haiti 100% Cacao

When it comes to chocolate bars with a 100% cocoa content, there seem to be two types--at least from what I have observed. The first 100% bar I ever had was from Pralus and I loved it (that was so long ago that I'm curious to try it again and see what I would think now). I've had others that I've liked and others that I haven't. I hated the one from Bonnat. The difference between the Pralus bar and the Bonnat bar is what I meant when I said that there were two types: the first was dominated by chocolate flavor and the second by cocoa bitterness. Chocolate flavor can be either straight chocolate or various flavor notes. Either way, it's distinct from the biting bitterness experience.

The Haiti 100% Cacao bar falls more under the category of the Bonnat bar. Its scent is deep and felt slightly floral to me, but perhaps that was just how I was registering the high cocoa content. An initial bitterness on the tongue builds and increases, only decreasing and mellowing a bit around the halfway point. It is important to note that with a chocolate that only has cocoa in it (no sugar, no nothing, just cocoa and some more cocoa butter), it can be helpful to start with a much smaller piece than what you would normally consider. A bigger piece will mean more bitterness. A smaller piece will mean that it's easier to take in.

Still, you get my point: this chocolate wasn't for me. I don't mind a certain degree of bitterness in chocolate, the kind that teases around the edges. I don't mind very dark chocolate: I've loved certain bars in the 80's, 90's, and even 100% ranges. But this one just isn't my style.

Back in November, I did review the Haiti 70% bar (and of course yesterday I reviewed the Haiti Milk Chocolate). That chocolate was one of my favorites from Zak's, which is what makes me surprised that the darker version didn't work for me. Maybe because I described it then as being "featherlight" and a 100% bar, by its nature, can't really be featherlight. (Interestingly, too, I also described that bar as having floral notes to its aroma but not its taste.) So having tried three versions of Haiti origin chocolate from Zak's, the 70% remains my personal favorite.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Zak's Chocolate: Haiti Milk Chocolate

Zak's Chocolate doesn't always have milk chocolate bars available to purchase. Like with the white chocolate, it's something you'll want to get when you do see it. And do you see this chocolate bar?

Beautiful, isn't it? The clear bag allows you to see its pretty face, where a fun font and a cocoa pod smile out at everyone. And when you open up the seal? An aroma so rich and enticing emerges, with the creaminess of milk chocolate and a sense perhaps of berries.

The chocolate tastes of cream on the tongue, then of cocoa butter. As it melts, a light citrusy pepperiness (like bergamot) emerges, followed by more creaminess. Everything grows warmer with more of that sense of richness from the aroma as you come to the finish.

Is it what I'd expected? No, not really. Usually when companies like this do a milk chocolate, it ends up being a darker milk chocolate: after taking the selection of cocoa beans and the details of production of chocolate so seriously, I suppose they hate to lose flavor by "watering down" the cocoa with milk and sugar. This isn't like that, though. This is milk chocolate, and it isn't pretending that it isn't. Sure, there is richness to it, but mainly you have that traditional milk chocolate creaminess and more of the cocoa butter flavor than deeper cocoa flavors. So that is definitely interesting.

While I do enjoy this chocolate, I'm not as head over heels for it as I was for the white chocolate (which is also interesting) I also got at Zak's. This chocolate is good (yes, better than what I call the grocery store brands like Lindt and Ghirardelli), it's ethically sourced, and it's local for me. And all of that is sufficient: I don't need to be head over heels for everything. And as I keep stressing, we do need products like this. I enjoy a good dark chocolate, sure. Cocoa origins and flavor notes, they're great--but the world needs good milk chocolate around, too.