Saturday, April 30, 2016

April Favorites

1) Lollia Imagine Perfume (Flowering Willow & Lotus) - Lollia is probably my favorite perfume brand. Tocca's really nice, but Lollia just seems more me sometimes. I'd been planning to get this perfume back in December or January, only to find (when I finally went to get it) that the company stopped making it. So I stalked the ebay listings for a few months and finally came across this one that was marked lower than the rest because a third of it has been used. You see, I just felt like I needed it for my collection--especially since I had been planning to get it. It has a creamier smell than the other Lollia scents that I have, though still very much floral.


2) Horned Melon - Actually, this isn't a favorite at all--I just wanted to post about it somewhere, so this is the place. I wanted it because it reminded me of the fruits in Star Wars: Rebels and then I realized that it's exactly what Rey is eating at Maz's castle in Episode VII (except that hers is filled with some other fruits or something). So, um, that's what had me excited. Inside, well, it was basically like an extra seedy cucumber of the variety that you can usually only grow yourself or buy at a farmer's market. Just seeds, really. So I have to admit that I didn't eat much of it; I shared it with some chickens instead. But it's still cool-looking, isn't it?


3)  Udder Delight Pink Lip Balm - This is the same little store in Cave Creek (which is right above Phoenix/Scottsdale) that makes the arnica salve I sometimes use. They also make soaps and lotions, including a bug repellant one that's great for summer. While most of their other products have goat's milk (hence the name), this lip balm doesn't. Instead, it's made with rice bran oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, lanolin, and butter cream flavor. Not sure what that last ingredient is exactly, but it does make the lip balm taste nice. Very smooth and almost sweet; at first I thought I was just tasting the cocoa butter. The pink coloring is less than subtle: it's like a hint of tint rather than an actual tint. Still, that's good for days spent outdoors, when it's moisturizing you need more than color.


4) Gardening - Since I pretty much ignored the garden in winter (I kept getting sick in fall, so I never planted what I'd wanted to put in for the winter garden), I'm trying to make up for it by caring for the warm weather garden more. And right now that there has been some nice weather (and some hot weather and some cold weather--it's just been so weird), I'm trying to be outdoors a little more before summer sets in. Oregano's growing nicely, and spinach, and zucchinis growing their vines. I'm learning how to properly prune tomatoes. Carrots are my favorite to watch grow: there's something so fascinating about their green, carrot-smelling tops with the bright orange roots hidden beneath the dirt. Pretty much, gardening is good for the soul, even if you're (like me) still learning.

5) White Bermuda Shorts - I had just been saying that I needed some white capris or something like that, and then I saw these at My Sister's Closet (which is a string of stores in Scottsdale/Phoenix with the best used clothing). They looked pretty new, and I think they might be an Anthropologie brand (which is my current favorite place to buy shorts and pants, when I have the money for it [which is okay because I don't need to buy new ones often]). They're sort of a tight fit but the material is very soft and flexible, making them almost like wearing leggings. I'll get a lot of use out of these.


6) Get Smart - I've been slowly moving through these episodes again. In case you've never heard of the show, it's a fantastic product of the 60's about a secret government organization of spies and it really has nothing to do with spies, just jokes.


7) Vergani Gianduiotto Chocolates - I'm not going to do a review of these because they fall under the candy category more than anything else and candy is kind of boring and often pointless to try and review, for me at least. But I had to mention them because I am enjoying them. They're just little piece of hazelnut chocolate, nothing more and nothing less.


8) Spring Blooms - I was down in Phoenix this past week and the saguaros were in bloom, a special treat since the flowers are gone as soon as they come. A few days before, I also caught these two at the Desert Botanical Garden over there. Just beautiful.



9) Cave Creek Candles in Chocolate & Rose - Right behind the previously-mentioned goat's milk product store in Cave Creek is this candle store that I had somehow never been into. They make their own candles and infuse them with a variety of good quality scents. Nice and fresh and real. I got two small candles, one in chocolate (because I had to) and one in rose (because I thought it was the best scene in the store). And they smell rather nice together, too, like chocolate-covered Turkish Delight.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Taza: Spiked Eggnog

Taza, my dear, it's been a while since you and I last met. Having tried most of Taza Chocolate's offerings (though I think I've only reviewed a couple of them), I usually pass by their products these days in favor of new things. When I was at Montezuma Castle National Monument last week, though, the Taza display in their gift shop had this leftover from Christmas. It's the Winter Warmer Spiked Eggnog flavor. Christmas may be long gone, but the best by date isn't until November and I did really want to try this flavor. So here it is. Christmas in late April.


And you know what? That works out pretty well because this chocolate turns out to not be very Christmasy after all. It's just nutmeg, rum flavor, and vanilla that have to carry the eggnog flavor and, well, there's only so much that they can get across on their own.

As soon as you taste the chocolate, it has a creamy sort of sweetness; the cocoa content is low at 55%, so there is a lot of sugar in here (in a good way). Just a hint of spices come into the flavor, but not too much; it's more of an aftertaste. Then you get Taza's distinctive flavor and texture of sugar crystals at the end, followed by cool chocolate. I don't taste the rum at all, or anything that even reminds me of alcohol. So if I hadn't gone in thinking of eggnog, I doubt I would have known that's what the flavor this chocolate is supposed to convey.


With that said, however, it's still a pretty good chocolate. It's cool and sweet while also warm and inviting. Taza's slightly crumbly, not quite gritty texture is always great--if you've never tried their chocolate definitely get some (it has that texture like Mexican hot chocolate, by the way, because it is stone ground). This texture plus the sweet, lightly spiced nature of this chocolate make it all too easy to munch away at. The two, eight-piece discs are the perfect size for either eating or using to make hot chocolate. While I usually don't make hot chocolate from Taza, I might do so this time just out of curiosity. Maybe the added flavors will come out more once it's all heated.


Oh, yes, and for the labels: organic, direct trade, non-GMO, dairy/soy-free (I called it slightly creamy in flavor, but rest assured that there is no cream). So basically another (mostly) successful Christmas offering of good quality chocolate (there aren't too many, especially in comparison to all of the terrible holiday chocolate) (and it would be more than "mostly" successful if it did a more recognizable representation of its chosen flavor of eggnog--but I still like it).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Mask of Kylo Ren

The mask of Darth Vader was fashioned after a skull, with blank spaces for eyes to imply the nonexistence of a soul. The mask of Kylo Ren is formed without a mouth because his is a character who cannot speak.

There are many possible ways in which he can't speak. It may be that he doesn't know how to express himself or even that he doesn't know what he wants to express; "I'm being torn apart," he says. Perhaps he is hiding something, which would be the case if he is some kind of double or undercover agent. Or it might be that someone is trying to not let him speak; he is being contained in some way (presumably by Snoke). He himself might also be trying to repress something (like the light), to not let it speak out of his mouth and his actions.

Visually, the mask looks something like a criminal's muzzle, something made to contain threats and danger. It suggests that Kylo Ren is a threat, which is in fact why he chooses to wear this mask: he wants to look like intimidating, like his grandfather before him. But his mask has less of a "crown" than Vader's did: he is less powerful. And where Vader's mask was about blankness, Ren's is about blocking. There was nothing for Vader to hide because he had all but killed all the good in himself, but Ren has much that he still tries to suppress.

Speaking of his mask leads me to think of his face. I commented before on the unique, well, mutilation that Kylo Ren receives during his battle with Rey: Star Wars has so much of chopping off hands and limbs but he just got some deep wounds and a sliced face. Now I see why the face is significant.

The face is vanity. The face is self-image and your level of comfort with the idea of how other people perceive you. Ren wore the mask to feel powerful and to intimidate others into thinking he was powerful. So when Rey cuts his face, that's showing that his true face is damaged and that he is aware that it's damaged. The vanity is marred. The bravado fades into shock. His self-image struggles, as it probably has before, as only anger (which he is so quick to cultivate) can heal. Unless he can finally accept that he is damaged--and that damage to the light is not good.

Oh, Kylo Ren, don't you see that even though you've fashioned this dark mask for yourself, you are constantly wanting to take off the mask and let your own face be free? This shroud of darkness is not the answer. If you continue down this path, you will have even more scars than the slash across your face. It's never too late to turn away, but now you're marked. Now your mask is not just there to intimidate: it is there to hide your weakness and decay, as visually represented by a deep scar.

Writing Adventures: Part 6

Click here to read Part 5.

It would seem that I have, essentially, caught up to the present with these posts. So now instead of explaining what I have been doing or thinking I will be writing down what I am doing or thinking.

My book is done. I've worked on content and language and length, and I've gone through to edit for grammar and typos. (It wouldn't hurt to go through once more, though, I suppose.) I have begun the process of self-publishing, and I've learned that much of this process is simply reading about how things are supposed to be done. There is so much that I didn't know about getting a book published.

I've found that not everyone I talk to even knows what an ISBN is (I did); I had to not only know what they are but also go and buy one (well, a few, actually). And then I was reading about copyrights, too; I never knew that you have to pay to register a copyright (your work automatically belongs to you, but registering your copyright is basically for legal records in case any issues every come up).

Then there is the proper formatting of your book. The cover. The back cover. Pictures (I still haven't had anyone take my author photo--I'm considering taking it myself but I suppose I'm a terrible photographer and really shouldn't). I need to get some nice business cards, too.

Oh, yes, and then there is the odd task of writing my book summary. Don't ask me why this is so incredibly difficult for me: it's my book, so it should be easy. But whenever I try and put something together, it's like trying to jam a nail through one of my fingers in the dark (as in, it hurts to do and yet you also can't quite figure out how to do it because you can't see). I've written some different versions and I'm trying to see what's best so that I can edit that one. I should have been done with this part a long time ago--but I just can't see to do it.

So that's one side of what I've been doing.

The other is beginning my next book. I didn't exactly plan to start working on something else. It just sort of happened. Maybe a few months after I'd basically finished the first book, I had an image in my head for the next one. So I wrote that down. And I add to it from time to time. And I think about that story quite a bit, even though I haven't written anything else for it in a little while.

I want this book to be a little different. In some ways, it'll be more linear. I thought it would be less abstract, but now I'm thinking to possibly incorporate magical realism into it. I like the idea of magical realism and I've been wondering why that isn't part of the genre that I write in--so I'm going to try it. Just a sprinkle of it, possibly a sprinkle that'll get bigger as the book moves on. I don't know yet: I still don't know where this story goes or how it ends. But it's kind of fun to be back at the beginning again--and this time I feel more in control of what I can do with this book.

The end and the beginning, the publishing and the drafting, both at once.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Thoughts on the New Star Wars Information

In case you haven't heard, J.J. Abrams announced in a Q&A that Rey's parents aren't in The Force Awakens, which has given rise to much more speculation about who she is and what her role will be in the future films. In particular, people are excited that this makes Reylo possible and might mean that Rey is a Kenobi.

I had to take a little bit of time to ponder this new info. I'd been planning a different post on the movie (the DVD release has me excited to start talking about it again), but we'll just let that wait for some other time. For now let me get some thoughts out (probably nothing that hasn't already been said elsewhere, just my way of putting together what I think sounds most plausible). I also just want to record at what point I thought what--that way I can look back at this years from now and see how right or wrong I was.

When I first saw Episode VII, I was convinced Rey was Luke's daughter. Absolutely convinced. But the more I thought about it, the more boring that seemed. And then as time went on, my interest started to transfer from Rey to Kylo Ren. I went into it all loving Rey's character and walked out thinking only about Kylo Ren.

So by the time J.J. Abrams made his little declaration (which had better be true and not just a lie to throw us off the track), I was already feeling like Rey wasn't Luke's daughter after all. It's almost a relief now to think that she isn't and to feel like I don't have to keep wondering if that's true. Yes, the movie is constantly pairing her, visually, with Luke (her outfit looks like his Episode IV getup and her new outfit at the end of the movie closely resembles his Episode V look), but that can be because of theme instead of because they're related: her character can be playing the same role in this trilogy that Luke played in the OT. Like how BB-8 resembles R2 in some ways because he plays a similar role in the story as R2 did--not because he's a droid descendent of R2.

And now on to Reylo. I have confirmation (in this post) that I was considering the idea of Reylo at least by the second time I watched the movie. I figured that if the characters weren't related, then this was a way that they could be connected, with Rey possibly helping bring Ren back to the light side. And I thought it also made sense with the dual look the two characters have: one light and one dark, both paired together and reflected back on each other.

I thought about that. But I also apparently mostly dismissed the idea at the time (I still thought they were probably cousins). And now, well, I'm just like everyone else: I can't stop thinking about the idea of Reylo (I kind of like saying that name, too: it's funny).

It makes sense. I just rewatched the movie with this theory in mind. And if fits very well in his side: the complication's move on her side. Here is how I can picture it.

I tend to be interested in the theories that Ren is not all bad. We know that he was born with equal capacity for the light and dark sides because that's been stated (Even though that seems weird because how is that different from someone's free will to choose light or dark? Or does Star Wars believe in fate over free will now? Did it always?). The question is how much he wants to follow the light or dark side: everything he says and much of what he does is ambiguous. Is he ultimately trying to defeat Snoke by getting in close to his enemy? Is he trying to channel both the light and dark sides simultaneously to achieve the greatest power? Or is he just stumbling after mistakes he made because of his bad family life? We don't know anything for sure, but there is enough material like this that he isn't just a blank, evil character and therefore we can imagine how some type of relationship with Rey might develop.

Then watch the movie, watch his scenes with Rey, watch how he looks at her and what he says to her. He either knows something about her (her identity, her past, or the meaning of her strength with the Force) or he loves her (either romantically of platonically). He does look her up and down when he first meets her--in a completely ambiguous way (Adam Driver certainly knows his acting); he might be kind of checking her out or simply sizing up his enemy. He obviously grows fascinated by her, which could be because he likes her or simply because of her power (or, of course, both). When he takes off his mask in the interrogation scene, it's as if he wants her to see his face. Because it'll make his task easier? I don't see how. So it can only be because he wants her to see him as human and not the "creature in a mask." Either because some part of him wants her to like his face or because he is hoping to get her to join him on the dark side and showing his humanity seems like a good way to do this. (Or he might remove his mask to see if she recognizes him from the past, to test and see if she is who he thinks she might be. But I'm not sure about that one: it seems possible that they might have known each other in the past, but that would need a lot of explaining.)

Then there's this. Both novelizations (adult and junior editions) have Ren telling Rey that he's going to take the map from her mind and to not be afraid. But the movie's line is a little different. There's a gap after he talks about taking the map and then he says, "Don't be afraid. I feel it, too." Feel what? The presence of the map? No. Her fear? That seems more likely (though this would more be him thinking he feels her fear but actually he's the one who's afraid). Someone said it's the connection between them. Maybe.

In both novelizations is also the line from Snoke: "You feel compassion for her?" Ren denies this but the fact that Snoke says it must mean there's some truth to it. The question is whether he means compassion as in sympathy or as in Anakin's definition that he gave to Padme in Episode II (basically, love).

If Ren's attracted to Rey, then that would easily give a reason for him not wanting to kill her in the final lightsaber battle (I can't quite bring myself to believe that he was really trying to defeat her, for whatever reason). After all, in the beginning he just throw her at a tree and fights Finn instead--then she has to peskily start a fight with him. He offers to teach her. How's that for a pick up line: "I can show you the ways of the Force." Could be because he wants her to stay with him or just because he knows she's strong and wants her on his side.

What makes me pause so much is his expression after she beats him. There he is on the ground, all wounded and cut up and defeated--and he looks maybe like he's having an out of body experience, maybe he's a little shocked but mostly he just looks still. Kylo Ren, still. Usually when things don't go his way or he gets shocked he reacts by getting angry and throwing a tantrum and slashing things with his lightsaber. Obviously he's very injured here so that affects how he can react, but he doesn't even look angry. Whatever it is, there has to be a reason why he isn't angry at Rey: if it had been anyone else defeating him he would have been angry. But because it's her he isn't.

So in the future I think there will be even more scenes between these two characters. Possibly they may shift light/dark roles (Rey has to get tempted by the dark side at some point, just as Luke was. Maybe Kylo Ren himself will be her temptation.). Possibly a love story will develop (Ren has to either come back to the light side or be revealed to be secretly working for the good all along for this to happen: no one's advocating a creepy attacker/victim relationship here. Even if Rey joins him on the dark side, I still don't think that would make up for how he treated her.). But they are for sure connected in some way, even if it is just thematically.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Guittard: Clair de Lune

Some chocolates are like old friends. You loved them once, long ago, and so you can never forget that affection and will continue to love them still, no matter what changes as the years go by.


Guittard, based out of California, was one of the companies that introduced me to shall we say, more serious chocolate. I was so excited to find their 91% Nocturne, then worried that I wouldn't like it because it was so dark, and then entranced by its richness. You can still buy the Nocturne, but I'm not sure if it's a little different now: Guittard has been doing something of a rebranding. Or perhaps reorganizing is a better word for it. Their bars are bigger now, packaged in foil and card boxes instead of just foil and paper. The design of the packaging is also different. And their chocolate is now marked as Fair Trade and non-GMO. While I liked the old packaging more (it had more of an earthy, vintage look), that last bit is certainly good and will certainly attract buyers. (In case you're wondering, I think the only other bar that's made it through from the old line into the new is the Quetzalcoatl.)

I wanted to try out the new line, starting with the Clair de Lune bar. But I've had it sitting waiting for at least a couple of months now: I had so many other things to review first. Now at last I turn to the patient Guittard chocolate. Just because I liked the old packaging more, doesn't mean that this one is bad. It's fine; I just don't love it. A simple dark blue background is the base for all the many descriptive words chocolate bars must now have, including the blend number (49, though I honestly don't see why there is a number in addition to the name). Other than the Fair Trade and non-GMO and 85% cacao notes, what is also interesting is the mention of no added cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is included in the cocoa percentage of a chocolate, and sometimes companies add in a little extra; Guittard didn't. Not exactly abnormal for a decent dark chocolate, but still good to note.


The card box folds open like an envelope to reveal some pictures of cocoa beans behind the hand-wrapped foil bar. There is a small slit in the envelope, allowing you to tuck the box closed again. The bar of chocolate is rather stripey, with just one blank space for the name. And I don't like the stripes: they remind me of cheap chocolate. Just get rid of them in favor of something else, some other design.


Fragrant, the chocolate smells rich and deep. In texture, it's a little hard and needs a couple of chews to get the melting started right. Perhaps it's older than it should be since I've had it sitting for a while, but it's still about a year away from it's best by date. The flavor starts off a tad on the bitter side, the earthy kind of bitter rather than the biting kind. Then it mellows out into warmer tones. The box tells me it has cherry notes, which I can neither confirm nor deny--but that sounds about right. It isn't highly fruity or citrusy; it isn't floral, either. But it does have that warm tanginess (as opposed to bright tanginess) that usually is called cherry notes. It's up there in the cocoa percentages at 85%. Sometimes this is my favorite range: it isn't difficult enough to make for there to be too many problems developing flavor and texture and yet it's dark enough that you can taste the chocolate more than the sugar (there is also some vanilla in here).

It's a pretty nice dark chocolate, not too complicated or too subtle in its delivery. Very straightforward. It's just nice, not really asking for anything in return except for you to take a quiet moment to eat it. No need for anything more. A good chocolate to just keep around the house for when you want a little dark chocolate or when you want something for a recipe. Guittard is among the more affordable chocolate brands, and also the more accessible, at least where I am (World Market is currently carrying their line). I wouldn't call it a special occasion chocolate; just a steady friend that you know you can count on.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lacey Sturm in Concert

I suppose I'm not a big concert person; I don't usually go to concerts just for the sake of going out somewhere. And the people whose music I listen to don't always come to Arizona (Hayley Westenra and Emma Shapplin, here's looking at you--at least make it to L.A. one day and maybe I can make it over there). With that being said, when someone I like is going to be nearby, it becomes all the more important to me that I get to see them live (just because there are only so many concerts that I do want to go to).

Flyleaf is one of my favorite bands and has been hugely influential to me and my life and my creation of art through writing. I never saw them live. Now the band itself is still around but Lacey stepped down as lead singer, putting our her solo album earlier this year after taking a bit of a break. While I enjoyed Flyleaf's newest album with their new singer, I loved Lacey's solo album: there is just something about the way that she sings and writes lyrics. So when I found out that she was going to be kicking off her solo tour in Scottsdale, well, I started to wonder if I couldn't make time to go. (Getting back home at nearly 1:00 AM on a Thursday night isn't exactly ideal.)

I don't really go see rock bands. I think the first concert I went to was Chris Tomlin with Matt Redman--maybe some pop rock but completely different. I see more in the semi-classical range: Josh Groban, Andrea Boccelli. I got to see Blondfire a couple years ago (though I used to love their music, strangely, right around the time they came to Arizona was when they were starting to release new music that I just can't enjoy)--they have an airy, indie pop, euro pop sound (incidentally, they came to the same venue that Lacey did). I did see U2 last year, which was great, but it was also such a big venue.

So seeing Lacey live was something a little different for me I guess. I usually listen to music with headphones, so to actually get all of the drums and guitars at full volume is really another experience.  And then to get to hear the vocals live, to see Lacey up close and see the passion with which she delivers her performance. (This is the great thing about small venues: you can be all the way in the back and still be right there.) It isn't just a repeat of the studio sound: it's freshly delivered and therefore comes with a fresh emotional impact. As near as I can remember, here was the set list (or something like it):

"Impossible"
"The Soldier"
"I'm Not Laughing"
"The Chasm"
"Rot"
"You're Not Alone"
"Feels Like Forever" (I think)
"Run to You"
"Faith"
"Roxanne"
"All Around Me"
"I'm So Sick"
"Fully Alive"
"Call You Out"

Most tracks were from her album, Life Screams (though she didn't play the title track). There were also a couple from Flyleaf's Memento Mori, one from New Horizons, and a couple of others (there was a good one that she said she doesn't get to sing often, but I didn't recognize it or catch the name of it). She skipped the words/conversation for "Vanity" but delivered the ones that start off "Rot;" that was cool to see live and I think helped me understand some of the messages in the pair of tracks. That's the thing about Lacey's songs: sometimes their meaning (or at least general meaning) is clear but sometimes there is a backstory that you kind of need to know to realize who the speaker is or what the setting is or what the exact message is. She shared something about "You're Not Alone," for instance, that gave a new perspective to it.

Such energy she brought onto the stage. Moving and singing like she has something very important to say--and she does. She only talked a little bit during the show, but just enough to complement the songs, to remind you of their significance. "I can't hold my head up in this dark room anymore. I need a lightning bolt to save me from this grave. Here comes fresh fire. . . . Oh my God, you've won the coldest battle we've fought. Deliverance is mine from more of this beauty that'll rot." The pain, the answer, and the decision to accept the answer and to live it. "Every morning I see another miracle. I can't believe I'm living the impossible. We are the sign and we are the wonder.  . . . I choose to be alive."

Lacey screams out a message and she wants to make sure everyone hears it. That makes for an incredible live performance. And she reminded me anew to live with passion. Whatever you do, do not be passive--and drive your passion from the right source toward the right ends. Live. Live because you know what it is to not be alive, because you have found something greater than that--and you want to be it and to share it. Don't fall back.