Monday, May 23, 2016

The Story of Kullervo

Time for more Tolkien. While some people may find it silly that so many texts can still be published from a deceased author, what they have to realize is that often these are texts previously only available to certain scholars--and the rest of us want the opportunity to study them, too.

The Story of Kullervo, as you may or may not know, is a short text that Tolkien wrote around his early twenties; it's a reworking of a section from the Kalevala, that infamous Finnish text that I hear so much about and yet can't recall ever reading anything from myself. In itself, it's kind of interesting to read. But what is more interesting and what makes it worth reading is the connection to Tolkien's later works, namely of course the story of Turin.

There was a phrase that Verlyn Flieger (who edited this text and also provided commentary) used: "it is a significant step on the winding road from imitation to invention" ("Tolkien, Kalevala, & "The Story of Kullervo" 163). As a writer and a student of literature, that's what was most interesting. When you are young, you do draw more from what's around you as you're realizing what you like and what calls to you and trying to develop the way in which you'll use those influences while also adding in what is unique to you--it takes time to develop from inspiration into creation. When reading this text, a story that is not from Tolkien, it's easy to see what about it compelled Tolkien--because those are the things that he would later work into his own writings.

The actual text is quite short, only about thirty-five pages. I do recommend reading Flieger's Introduction; she does a good job of concisely explaining what the Kalevala is, how Tolkien came to be familiar with it, and whatever else the reader needs to know before going in. I didn't read her notes and commentary for now. There are also two essays by Tolkien; I skimmed those, as well as Flieger's accompanying essay at the back of the book. If I ever want to go back and read in detail, it's all still there--but for now this was enough.

That's about all that I have to say. I appreciate the publication of this text, I enjoyed reading it, and it makes for an interesting study of Tolkien's development as a writer and a creator.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Flying Bird Botanicals: Chokola Tea

(I'm going to try something new where, instead of trying to post every other day, I plan on posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was starting to miss days too often the other way, so I'm hoping this will become more regular. We'll see.)

I like tea and I like chocolate and so chocolate teas are always interesting to try--yet they are not always my favorite. Usually there are just too many flavors or it all ends up being too herbal or the chocolate flavor disappears underneath everything else. But I still keep wanting to try them all.

This little tube of tea came from the Desert Botanical Garden's gift shop, and it was positively expensive. Thirteen dollars for six tea bags. I'm used to that price for sixteen to thirty-six tea bags. Granted, it's still probably a bit less than if you went to a cafe and ordered a cup of tea six times--but it's probably the priciest set of tea bags I've come across.

It is organic tea, though, and the cocoa nibs are also fair trade. The tea comes in silken, compostable tea bags, and the tins are made of recycled steel. Flying Bird Botanicals is based out of Washington and I had certainly never heard of them before. They do make some pretty packaging, though, don't they? Nice and neutral colors to balance out the mild frilliness of the birds and flowers. Just a touch of whimsy without looking wacky.

Besides the cocoa nibs, this tea also has roasted chicory root, roasted carob, "spices," and vanilla bean. So more of an infusion than an actual tea. I've had chicory in tea before, but I'm not sure if I've ever had it in a case like this where there are no tea leaves in the mix.

The tea brews into a rich brown color, just slightly reddish. Because I'm sick of trying to take pictures of tea and settling on posting a terrible picture out of obligation, you get no picture of the brewed tea: if it's my blog and I don't want to take a picture of the brewed tea, then I guess I don't have to. Just use your imagination (honestly, it wasn't a very exciting sight, so you're not missing out on much).

It tastes wonderful, warm and fragrant. If this tea were a cookie, it would be a molasses crinkle (which are fairly similar to gingerbread cookies); it has that taste of molasses and ginger even though it has neither molasses nor ginger (well, it might have ginger--it does have undisclosed "spices"). Does it taste like chocolate? Well, maybe a little. I've come to expect that, unless chocolate is the only flavor added, chocolate teas just don't taste that much like chocolate. Oh, yes, and it doesn't taste much like chicory, either, which is a good thing because chicory can get a little strong; I think the chicory is just there to add something to the feel of the flavor rather than to expressly add a chicory flavor.

What's nice about this tea is that it isn't quite a dessert tea--but still could be. It has more the idea of sweetness without actually being sweet, which I find rather nice.

Now, the packaging suggests adding milk and honey. I tried it with some soy (I usually drink almond but happened to have soy in the house, so I added that since the flavor of soy tends to mix into drinks better than that of almond, though I otherwise prefer almond). It mellows out the flavor into something creamier and less rich, something for a cuddly, sleepy-time moment--something less striking.

The next time, I added both soy and honey, and this was too much for me (granted, I may have added just a tad too much honey: there's only one tea I drink with honey and that one's quite strong so it actually needs lots of honey). In this situation, you're primarily tasting the honey with the warmth of whatever spices are in the tea. It's nice, but in general I find that it covers the flavor just a little too much. Perhaps with just honey and no milk might be better. You decide what works best for you. Obviously, I think I'm most partial to drinking it plain, or with a splash of milk.

After all of that, I'm almost done with all six tea bags. Kind of a shame but also kind of a good thing: this is the type of tea that you want to keep special, otherwise you get tired of its flavor. It was fun to try but nothing that I would buy regularly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The End of the Hobbit Books

That's right, this is the sixth and last book in the Hobbit: Chronicles series by Weta (this one is subtitled The Battle of the Five Armies: The Art of War)It's been a long journey and I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm kind of glad it's over: they're very interesting books but it's also quite a lot of content to go through and it does get a little exhausting. (I admit that I also started reading it later than I otherwise would have because I was too busy thinking about Star Wars to get back into The Hobbit quite yet.)

Add to that the fact that much of this book (I think more than with the others, though I could be mistaken) involved white text printed on a black background. That may seem like a petty detail to you, but white text is much harder on my eyes--especially when reading at night by lamps and such, which is usually how I've been reading books lately. So that's one of the reasons why this book took me so long to get through. I would pick it up, excited to read it, and then set it down two pages later because my eyes just couldn't take it. So. Enough of that.

At 250 pages full of images and commentary, well, it was also a good thing to take my time just to be able to absorb it all. We had some of the usual things in here, like concept art of costumes and armor. But there was also a lot that was a little new to hear about in such detail. Terry Notary, Movement Coach on the film, gave lots of commentary both about who different characters/species moved and about choreographing certain scenes. And given that the last movie was basically just the battle, there was much about the layout of the battle, the geography of it, and all that. Kind of amazing how much they had to block out and plan. The fold-out battle map at the back of the book was helpful in visualizing both what they're talking about and what's going on in the movie.

I guess that's about it. This last book is a bit of a monster to read through but just as informative and interesting as the rest. (Side note: there were a few typos in here, which seemed like a bit much for a book like this, even though typos are pretty normal for any first edition book.) It completes my collection, and I don't know of any other movie books that are so detailed as this set. (Just as I don't know of any movie features that are as comprehensive and detailed as those for the extended editions of TLOTR.)

Oh, yes, and one last mention for the cover. You can't tell without having it physically in front of you, but the cover is pretty amazing. It has a layer in it that looks like ice, with Azog breaking through the ice just as he does in the film; it's really quite a cool effect, even though it feels odd and terrifying to be reading a book with Agog on the cover.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Writing Adventures: Part 7

Click here for Part 6.

A quick and short update for this month.

The Book

There is little more to say this month. I've been working on publishing, and there isn't really too much more to do. I'm settling in on a cover I like, and finally editing together my final version of the book summary (I shared last time how difficult it has been for me to write the summary). So I've been using Lulu's Cover Designer, getting to know how that works. (Yes, I'm publishing through Lulu, which I might as well mention since you'll find out soon, anyway. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the different self-publishing companies, but I liked a lot of the things about Lulu and things have gone well with them so far.)

Once I've finished putting together everything, I will have to wait a few weeks to get my copy of the book in the mail so that I can approve it, make sure that everything printed right. So what I had been imagining as more of a spring release will be a summer release instead. I by no means have a release date for you (this is all new territory for me and, of course, sometimes you just don't know how long certain steps will take). But the time is definitely getting closer. I'll do a title and cover reveal with the summary once everything is all settled in.

The Manuscript

I just glanced at the manuscript for my next book. I've been writing it out on paper and then typing it up afterwards so that I have a way of tracking what I have so far. And I was somewhat surprised (since I haven't looked at it in a while) that it's already almost fifty pages. And I was also surprised that I like it. I want to do some things with it that I didn't do in the first book, while also maintaining some of the same feel (that is, what I want to be known for as a writer). Because, after all, I'd like for all my books to be able to offer something a little different from one another, for there to be something different that they each achieve or provide. That way I will feel like I have a body of work rather than simply a certain number of books.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Star Wars: Bloodline--The Secret's Out

I suppose it doesn't give anything away to say that this book involves the galaxy-wide reveal of a certain secret. The cover of the book, if nothing else, pretty much explains that. And I think everyone who would care has either read the book themselves or at least heard that much about it.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray takes place six years before Episode VII, which was enough to make me quite excited for it: I thought that it must help to explain the answers to some of the questions we've all been theorizing about. In reality, though, the answers that it gives aren't exactly the ones I was seeking--they're more about the political scene. Given how much I enjoyed the drama (as in, the characters and the relationships between characters) of Claudia Gray's Lost Stars last year, a book heavy on galactic politics wasn't exactly what I'd been expecting from Bloodline.

The book centers around Leia and her work in the Senate (it is good to see the work that Leia does); she's trying to work through the Senate's issues while also investigating a new possible threat (the reader is quick to realize, of course, that this threat is the First Order beginning to form) and trying to recover from the galaxy finding out the secret of her parentage. It's interesting--as long as you don't go in expecting to learn more about other questions, like how Ben reacted to all this and at what point he joined with the First Order and why exactly.

For me, the most interesting thing to note from this book was that Ben still, at this point, didn't know (unless he'd found out on his own and hadn't told anyone, which I doubt) who his grandfather was. What? Leia, you didn't tell him? No wonder he flipped. You can't just try and hide something like that, you have to tell it to them from when they're young so that they take it as a part of history, a fact rather than a tragedy. Maybe it would've been easier for him to make peace with the truth if he had always known about it, if his family had always told him what it did/didn't mean for his own life. So he's about 24 when he finds out. And apparently, he hadn't been flirting with the Dark Side or anything before this point (Leia's brief mentions of her son contain no concern about this). So it may have been a big and sudden explosion.

Let me (halfway) get back to the content of the book. It might just be me, but I felt like I could see many aspects of Episode VII in there, even though we were following a fairly unrelated plot (the politics of it are related, of course). Namely, Leia's relationship with Ransolm Casterfo. He is someone that she develops a friendship with, someone who betrays her (in his attempt to tell the truth, or otherwise do what he thinks is right at the moment), someone who later tries to do the right thing by supporting her, someone who must face the consequences of his actions in the end, and someone that she decides to forgive. Sound like Ben to anyone else? Leia's son, who betrays her by joining the First Order, who might try to right his wrongs, who will face consequences even if he does, and who Leia will always be able to forgive because she loves him. I kind of wonder if Ransolm wasn't a subtle bit of foreshadowing. It would make sense because he, too, doesn't think at first that he is doing anything wrong--he thinks his aims are good and they basically are; he just goes about things in the wrong way sometimes and when he finally realizes it, he can't escape. "It's too late."

Yes, I know, I hardly stayed on topic, but that's why I don't consider my posts on books reviews. (Book reviews I usually consider boring, anyway; book reactions are better.) I did enjoy Bloodline, just not as much as I'd hoped I would. And as far as it not answering as many questions as I'd hoped, well, that's probably a good thing: the less we know, the longer we'll be able to keep having fun speculating.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Alter Eco: Velvet Truffle

Alter Eco is pretty smart with their truffles. Basically, they're the organic, fair trade version of Lindor truffles. Small, round, and individually-wrapped, they come in four flavors: Black (dark chocolate), Velvet (dark milk chocolate), Salted Caramel, and Sea Salt. I'm pretty sure I usually only see the first two for sale, though. The Black Truffles are in purple wrappers and the Velvet are in blue.

What is so convenient and enticing about these truffles is that stores will sell them individually (as sometimes the Lindor truffles are sold and sometimes Ghirardelli squares). So while you're out grocery shopping, you can just pick up one or two to have on your way home. It seems like such a simple thing, but this is a need that should be filled: small, quality, everyday treats are important options to have. It keeps you from wanting too many sweets and it keeps you from stopping somewhere else for KitKats or Entenmann's (I say somewhere else because, of course, it's Whole Foods, not Safeway or other grocery stores, that sells these truffles).

So. I appreciate the concept from Alter Eco. Good chocolate bars can be a great value because they can last a while, but little chocolates have their place, too.

I forget which of the two I prefer; I think sometimes I get one and sometimes the other. Today I'm going over the blue-wrapped Velvet Truffle (I may or may not do a separate review at some later point of the Black Truffle because, frankly, they're quite similar).

Each truffle is a round piece made of two halves put together; the seam runs around the circumference. If you cut open the globe, you'll find light lines outlining the shell that holds in a soft center barely distinguishable from the shell. In texture, you will indeed find yourself thinking of the Lindor truffles: these have that same cool and creamy meltiness. The inside vanishes so quickly, lightly, and sweetly--and then the shell follows soon after.

You wonder, for a second, if it's pretty much the same thing as a Lindor truffle. But, no, it's different--in a way that you can't quite place. Something besides just the chocolate.

The difference is the oil.

I know. I said oil. Oil generally isn't something you want to find in chocolate. But in order to have chocolates with a shelf life of longer than two weeks, well, they have to have some kind of oil. What Alter Eco has done, though, is clever. They've used coconut oil. Don't worry about getting an extra coconut flavor thrown in there: I'm not overly fond of the taste of coconut but it was a while before I realized that that's what's in these truffles. What the coconut oil does is keep the ingredients of good quality and help provide a very particular sort of texture.

Everyone is familiar with coconut oil by now, right, thanks to this latest coconut oil craze? So you know about how it's solid at room temperature but turns liquid if it's even just a tiny bit warmer? I'm not a chemist (this is why I have no interest anymore in making chocolate: it's too technical), but I would imagine that the type of oil you use does influence the final texture. So. I approve of the coconut oil--I think it's a great mix. (I've also seen recipes for making "chocolate" at home with coconut oil and cocoa powder, so I suppose it makes sense since everyone with those recipes seems so excited about them.)

Oh, yes, and you may have been wondering about the sweetness level, since this is the milk chocolate version of the truffle. Not too overly sweet--but sweet enough. Looks like there is a lot of extra cocoa butter added, so I'm not entirely sure why it's called "dark milk chocolate" (which I generally consider milk chocolate in the 45% cocoa content range that's just starting to get some of the depth and richness of dark chocolate). It's just milk chocolate--not too complicated in flavor. Fairly straightforward, in fact. So if you want more depth, maybe go with the Black Truffle instead. Milk chocolate lovers, though, you won't be disappointed by the Velvet Truffle.

Friday, May 6, 2016

On the Timeless Nature of Despondency

Some days it is difficult to focus. Some days everything you do or have done seems wrong, or not good enough. Some days all of your actions, past and possible, flutter before your eyelids into a hopeless phantasmagoria.

Some days you just feel down, for no real reason--though you do make up reasons to feel down since you are already down.

And time becomes something strange. It slows down into something soft and mushy, weakening your will, tiring your body, and blurring your thoughts. The day passes. You either get little done or feel like you have done little. Either way, you feel like it doesn't matter and you felt like it didn't matter while you were doing it, so time no longer meant action and achievement. It meant inadequacy.

Somewhere in your head, you know that it isn't so. You know what you have done and what you can do. You know that you believe in good things, that you are not a melancholic sloth. But that doesn't really help because you also know that you're stuck in a little moment of slowness. Your mind just isn't working the way it should--and you know it isn't right but you also know that it will pass.

Tea and chips and chocolate and blankets and, when the time comes, a dose of YouTube all help--in nothing more than helping the moment to pass. But that is enough. Just let the moment pass, let it come and go so that you can move on tomorrow. Because you know that you are not this mood and you don't want it to stay for more than just a moment, its awful, timeless moment of muddiness.

Today was cold and windy--can you tell? I want the sun back.

Here is a completely irrelevant picture of a two and a half month old Zebra named Valentine (at Out of Africa Wildlife Park, of course) to cheer us up: