Friday, March 29, 2024

Miss to Mrs.

 October 25, 2023

Mrs. Deanna Rogers

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Olivespa: Chocolate Mint Lip Balm

Tucked away by a corner at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale is Queen Creek Olive Mill, where you will find not just olive oil but also various other olive products and a few miscellaneous other culinary items, like jellies and honey. You will also find the Olivespa section, filled with products made here in Arizona at the Queen Creek Olive Mill location itself. 

The product I have an excuse to talk about is the Chocolate Mint Lip Balm. It sits along with other scents like Vanilla Bean, Lavender, and Orange Blossom. (There is also an Unscented option.) The white case is slightly flattened instead of being completely round, so it won't roll away when you set it on a desk or table. The colors of the labels vary depending on the scent, but each one is still fairly soft in coloration and simple in its use of lavender or, in this case, cocoa pod icons. It all hits that balance between handmade and elegant. 

I've used various handmade or small batch type lip balms over the years and I've used olive soap, but I've never used a lip balm that highlights olive oil the way this one does. The balm is the color of olive oil, not tinted light brown like some chocolate balms are. The chocolate element comes in from "natural cocoa oil and flavors," which has some room for interpretation. Other ingredients are olive oil, beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter, red raspberry seed oil, and peppermint oil. The olive oil being the primary ingredient is what's different from other balms I've tried. And it definitely makes a difference.

The first time I tried this balm, I could taste the olive oil right away--which felt different for a lip balm and also not entirely in line with the chocolate mint. After that, though, I hardly ever seem to notice it. What I do notice, though, is that this balm is much more moisturizing than others and also longer-lasting. It reminds me, more than anything else, of the agave lip balm that Bite Beauty used to make before they, essentially, went out of business. And that lip balm was the best.

Chocolate is tricky when it comes to products like this. You can't really add pure, real chocolate flavor/scent to a balm--at least, I haven't seen it done. The Chocolate Lip Balm that I tried from Eldora Chocolate a couple years ago was even labeled as unscented rather than add faux flavor. The chocolate here is okay; it's miles better than a chocolate balm from Lip Smacker would be. But it still gives off a little of that faux feeling; it just doesn't quite match the taste of real chocolate. It goes well with the mint, though; the mint flavor is fine, given that it can come directly from peppermint oil. 

There might be some irony in the fact that the chocolate element was my excuse to buy and talk about this product--yet I'm coming out saying that I really like the product, just not the chocolate part. That is, if you don't mind this type of chocolate scent, go for it. For myself, I probably won't be buying the Chocolate Mint again. But I may have found my new go-to for lip balm, just in perhaps the Lavender or Vanilla Bean or Herbal Infusion instead. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Fantasy of The Magic Flute

What caught my attention and began my journey of dabbling in as a casual opera-viewer a few years ago was the emotional intensity of the art form. It's exciting. It's pure emotion in the form of sound. And that's genuine escapism as a viewer/hearer sitting in the theatre. So when I came across the trailer for a film entitled The Magic Flute that appeared to be a fantasy storm about entering into the Mozart opera of the same name, I just had to see it.

While the theatrical run was so limited that it appears to already be over after a week, I am glad I got to see it in theatres because there you have the benefit of theatrical sound quality for all of that Mozart music. Going off of reviews, it seems that people knowledgeable in music and opera did not find this film notable for its singing talent--but it isn't an opera as a film. It's a fantasy story that happens to have an opera as its fantasy world. And I love that concept.

It's like Narnia, in the sense of the fantasy world. The lead character, Tim, is a teenager whose father has just died and who has just started at a prestigious music school. He wants to do well but finds that he is lacking something. And what he finds is a portal in the school into The Magic Flute, where he is the opera's protagonist. In his journey to escape into the fantasy of the opera, he finds the tug back to the real world--as the plot thickens in the fantasy, he finds that he is also missing out on more from the real world by trying to get back to the fantasy. So the way that he "wins" inside the fantasy is by pulling in from his experiences in the real world. It's a classic concept of finding out how much the real world matters by finding mirrors for it within fantasy. And also a return to that concept of art theory, of remembering that the sharing of emotional experience is part of the core of art--so if you lose the emotion, which is rooted in real world experience, then you are also losing the very point of cultivating art.

Perhaps the frame story of the real world was imperfect. We bounce from Tim's dying father to his new female friend/crush, to his school roommate who is dealing with the aftermath of his own loss--and the layer of their themes basically fits but could use some refining. Though the mirror of these elements with those of the opera isn't perfect, I don't necessarily mind. Though perhaps most theatergoers won't connect with the extended length of some of the opera sequences, I didn't mind. Maybe some of the pacing, the back-and-forthing between the two worlds, could have been tweaked a bit, but I still really enjoyed this movie.

I probably would have enjoyed it for the mere fact that you get to see the main character singing his dramatic song while a giant snake is attacking him. That was wonderful. It brought back echoes of Black Swan. I didn't like everything about that movie's content, but I really enjoyed the way that it emphasized the edgy emotional quality of the ballet music. The same type of thing went on in this movie--just through the filter of a YA fantasy school story instead of a psychological thriller. Mozart's music could make up the score and bring in its full emotional weight reinterpreted for a new era of CG monsters and castles. I loved that this movie just went for it and did something completely fresh, though still based on familiar tropes. I wish it had been marketed more; I barely had a chance to know that it existed and barely was able to catch it in the theatre, so it didn't have much chance to introduce new audiences to opera. I'd love to see more content like this, in the sense of reworking classics into new formats and playing around with them. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Ritual Chocolate: Lover's Leap Bar

The chocolate and tea makers of the world have heard my cries. Where before I asked for more rose products, now I am finding them often. Rose coffee. Rose tea. Rose chocolate. And rose tea chocolate, as in today's Lover's Leap Bar from Ritual Chocolate. This is a limited edition flavor, a 70% dark chocolate made with Lover's Leap black tea from Smith Teamaker. Along with the black tea, the blend also includes rose petals, chamomile petals, black currant natural flavor, and bergamot oil. That just sounds like my own personal tea blend right there.

The pink flavor label contrasts nicely with the black card box for that classy, feminine color combination. The box unfolds in the usual, unique way that Ritual Chocolate has, with the little fold tab on top and the two wings on the sides. Beneath the brown paper wrapper is also the same geometric-yet-also-frilly design to match the outside. I sniffed the chocolate curiously but found only semisweet chocolate aroma with perhaps a faint orange/citrus/bergamot or maybe even rose note.

After taking a second to get settled in, the chocolate released a definite rose flavor--though the flavor was accompanied by a distracting, slightly dusty texture. The rose is strong enough to be noticeable but not too strong as to overpower. The bergamot I'll call more of an accompaniment; it isn't necessarily noticeable on its own, but its lack would be. Mainly what the bergamot seems to do is to simultaneously help make the rose stand out and to keep the rose from being cloying. It adds gentleness while also sharpening the flavor. Somehow the two elements put together are reminiscent of the jellied side of things, whether rose jelly and marmalade or rose and orange candies dipped in chocolate. Perhaps it's partly due to that connotation of chocolate-dipped Turkish delight or candied orange peel. 

I admit that I literally forgot about the black tea until my first bite had just melted. Which means that I don't notice the tea at all--unless it is the one responsible for that distracting texture element. But I don't believe that's the case: the chocolate doesn't seem to have any tea leaves or any other ingredients within it. This seems to be more of a case in which the tea was infused into the chocolate, rather than simply sprinkled on top or mixed in. The black tea, flavor-wise, may be lurking within the darker side of the chocolate. There is a certain edge to the chocolate that might well be enhanced by the tea. 

By my second bite, I was getting more of a sense of bergamot along with the rose and also more of a general floral feeling, like walking through a garden. There is a pleasant, lingering rose aftertaste. The dark chocolate makes for the perfect base, a neutral canvas to steady out and balance the girly flavors and keep it all from being sweet. Rose tends to be assembled as a sweeter flavor; this approach, while feeling completely natural, is also a little more unique. It's a perfect blending of soft and bold flavor. My greediness asks for more like this, please. More rose, please. Rose coffee and rose tea and rose chocolate and rose tea chocolate. More, please. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Newly Inspired Sound of Music

Arizona Opera often looks at ways to widen the audience or broaden the definition of opera. The latest example is their production of The Sound of Music, directed by Ian Silverman and starring Cadie J. Bryan as Maria and Jonathan Bryan as Captain Von Trapp. So how does a musical look as performed by an opera company?

Quite beautiful, it turns out. It's already a pleasure to hear live music and singing--and having this put together by an opera company means that the singers have different backgrounds than those you'll find at a typical musical. They add that extra, luxuriant quality to their singing. So the emphasis becomes even more on the singing than normal--or perhaps more on the technical delivery than just on the general tone of the songs.

Not that we lost the tone or the story. I've only watched The Sound of Music once, so it was a delight to delve back into the story. The themes around Maria's character center so perfectly around the idea that we each have a role in life, even if we don't always know what that role is. We see her trying to fit into a place that doesn't quite work--so the nuns offer her a different way to serve God and Man, as a teacher and then a wife and mother. Doing the right thing can take many shapes; it takes all of us, all of our shapes, to make the world turn. And Maria's very delight in the world and in life and in singing and joy that didn't make her fit in well at the convent are the very things that make her thrive in the Von Trapp household.

I have little to say on the technical sides of this production. The sets were beautiful, as usual; the way that the mountains were lit for day or darkened for evening was lovely. Having so many children on stage, all singing along, was impressive. But really it was just the way that everything expressed the story of this family coming together that made this opera's production of a musical just as elevated an experience as one of their operas. I wouldn't mind seeing more musicals show up in the season occasionally. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Stone Grindz: Wild Raspberry Jam

While Stone Grindz makes excellent plain dark chocolate, I've also found that their flavored chocolates are generally incredible--and uniquely so. They're always coming out with small batches of different flavors, and the one I'm looking at today is one I've been hanging onto for a while. It's the Wild Raspberry Jam. And it is, yes, incredible. 

Packaging is according to the usual Stone Grindz look. When the seasonal flavors are in card boxes, a sticker label has the info for the individual flavor, so that the same packaging can be used for all the different flavors they can come up with. You'll note that, besides the standard sugar and vanilla, the only non-cocoa ingredient is freeze-dried wild raspberries. Nothing sounds too unusual at this point.

But once you put one of those little alpaca-bedecked chocolate squares into your mouth, the magic begins. We know the whole fireworks exploding metaphor--but it isn't an exaggeration in this case. The cool, rich dark chocolate (which is on the "sweeter" side at 60% cocoa) barely has a chance to begin expressing itself before your taste buds are embraced by fresh berry jam flavor. While you are intoxicated by the berries, the chocolate's flavors weaves within it all like the two are enjoying an embrace. Past the halfway point, you might get a hint of tang that could be either trace cocoa bitterness or berry tartness: the two are so blended together that the idea of either or feels one and the same. But it's just a hint: otherwise, this is a mellow and soft and smooth chocolate, in terms of chocolate darkness.

It's also just the right level of sweet. This is not a cocoa content (60%) that generally works well. Usually it ends up being too sweet or not quite right, with the chocolate developed enough. But here, it's just right to add a touch of sugar to the berries but not enough to take away the chocolate's qualities. I'm still getting myself accustomed to eating most berries--and raspberry jelly/jam is probably the last berry jelly I would reach for. But if I could spread this chocolate bar on a piece of bread, well, that would be another story. Just the thought makes me imagine I taste cream in the chocolate, like it's part of a cream-and-jellied scone at afternoon tea. 

I've had freeze-dried berries in chocolate bars before. But not like this. This tastes more like the flavor of a berry truffle, especially when paired with the soft smoothness of the Stone Grindz chocolate. While you may not happen on this particular flavor again, I do recommend any other similar flavors you might come across. Like I said, they're always trying out new ones. And this one turned out to be one of my favorites. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

C.S. Lewis and the Quest for Truth

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early work, The Pilgrim's Regress, to express his dissatisfaction with it. If the author himself didn't think he was successful, then how do you approach it as a reader? Naturally, I expected imperfection; but I still thought it would be an interesting read, one piece in the collective body of Lewis's work. I was quite pleased then to find it a better read than expected. 

Granted, one of Lewis's critiques of the book was that he felt like it wasn't easy to understand all the references simply from the text itself. And that is true. I did need the headers on each page to help me follow along with the symbols--but when I read The Pilgrim's Progress two years ago, my copy was simply crawling with footnotes and endnotes. True, it's some centuries older than Lewis's book, but my point is that, even with a text that needs no notes when it is new, it will quickly need them as the years go by. Besides this, I also knew that I was following along with the text fairly easily because I'm pretty familiar with Lewis's writing. I've read most of his non-fiction and fiction alike, and he kind of has his favorite topics that he likes to revisit and keep exploring. It was fascinating to see those same concepts at play in this book, before he wrote Narnia or The Space Trilogy or his non-fiction. But, of course, I can see how a reader would be at a disadvantage trying to read The Pilgrim's Regress without having read his later works.

All of that aside, this is a genuinely good book. Sure, it may need a little explaining or notes or previous familiarity with Lewis, but it's a wonderful look at a man's intellectual pursuit of Truth. He wanders and pokes into all the wrong places and keeps finding himself dissatisfied until he finally starts looking into the right places and finally starts reaching clarity. When he embraces the Truth, the world looks completely different. He goes back to where he started and it's all completely changed because his perspective has completely changed (which is like a predecessor of thought to Till We Have Faces or the dwarves in The Last Battle who think they are still in a dark barn--but we could go on all day about "references" like that). 

As I was finishing up this book, the movie Jesus Revolution came out--and what an overlap there is between the two. Lewis's other criticism of his own book was that it was too obscure. He believed that he came to realize the Truth of Christianity in an uncommon way, and so therefore his description of his process of exploring different lines of thought and philosophy until finally accepting this one was not one with which many people can relate. Now that may be true. But I was struck by how similar the coming to faith in this movie was to what Lewis describes.

The film covers the early days of Calvary Chapel and how Chuck Smith came face to face with the hippie generation. At first, he doesn't understand them and has no thought of trying to reach them. But through people he meets, he comes to realize that the hippies are just young people searching for the Truth in all the wrong places. As they're introduced to the gospel, they embrace it by the thousands. While C.S. Lewis was never out doing drugs to have a spiritual experience or protesting on the streets, he was sitting philosophizing about life. He even dabbled in the occult. He was aware from the start that there was some sort of meaning to life--and he kept pondering it until he finally had to admit that he knew that there was a God and then eventually came to accept Jesus, too. Is that so unlike the hippie generation's quest and the eventual realization by people like Greg Laurie that Jesus wasn't just another high but the ultimate Truth?

Greg's baptism scene in the movie is also reminiscent of the ones Lewis writes. He writes a great scene in The Pilgrim's Regress about having to dive right in and pass through death--like how Greg feels like he (that is, the "old man") is sinking away into the water only to break through the surface to new life. Lewis also writes that wonderful baptism analogy in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan turns dragon Eustace back into a boy. Maybe I just haven't watched a lot of baptism scenes in movies, but this one really carried the symbolic weight of the act--in a way that matches how Lewis describes it.

Lewis's book focuses on the self's realization. The film, though, focuses more on how, after we've had our individual realizations, we can spread what we've found to others. By a few people being willing to get to know and talk to and love the young generation, whole waves of change begin; they allow themselves to be used by God to enact these changes in people's lives. And that's the convicting part. I consider this primarily a movie by Christians for Christians. Maybe it'll reach some non-Christians. But what I primarily consider its goal is to wake those of us up who already say we've found the Truth. If the hippie generation felt so unreachable and people let God use them to reach them, then the same can be done today. Even though the searching may look a little different for different generations, we're all born searching--we just need a few people willing to act as signposts to point us in the right direction.