Sunday, September 29, 2013

September Favorites

Happy birthday to me this month: I chose a few trinkets.

1) Lollia Perfume in Wish - I have one or two tiny perfumes from Lollia. Mainly I thought I would get this one for the pretty cylinder bottle. Then I brought it home and found that I love the scent. Along with the Happ & Stahns Rose Alba, it's now my favorite. It's sweet and innocent and magical, in a clean and fresh way. It's like a sugared flower petal, I suppose.

2) Disney & Green Notebooks - I love notebooks; I love Disneyland; I picked out the black DLR notebook and a blue Cinderella one that flips over to Aurora on the other side. The princess notebook is also a compromise with myself since I liked some of the t-shirts with a similar style, but didn't buy any because I knew I wouldn't wear them except at home. The green suede is from Anthropologie, and has two slits for storing a pencil.

3) Red Bracelet - A gift, this bracelet has alternating red and gold. Given that I have started wearing more bracelets lately, this is the perfect addition to my collection.

4) Wonderland Topsy Turvy Tea Blend - I fell in love with the Mad Tea Party Blend I got earlier this year, so I picked up the second flavor this time. Unfortunately, it is not as unique: it's basically Earl Grey. That said, however, it's still nice tea, I love that it's loose, I like the tin, and I am glad to find an option like this for sale at the parks.

5) Owl & Clock Necklace - Another gift, the little owl's wings open up to reveal a clock. I often prefer long necklaces, and this also pairs easily if I want to wear it alongside a shorter necklace.

6) Beauty & the Beast Picture - That's right, more Beauty and the Beast. While some of the Disney art these days can be quite quality, it doesn't always fit in with my style. This little frame, however, looked small enough to put on the wall with my other pieces without shouting "Disney merch." And it's Beauty and the Beast.

7) Hillywood Shirt - I don't like all of The Hillywood Show's shirt designs, so when there is a design I like, I try and get it quickly. Their first v-neck shirt has a simple, YouTube-esque logo.

8) Antique Writing Desk - I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder with this desk. The top two pieces of wood fold away (to opposite sides, like a book) to reveal space for pens and ink and a flat space for writing. Here, the middle piece also folds back to reveal another compartment, which I believe was where you kept paper and perhaps letters.

9) Lady Gaga "Fame" Mini Perfume - Here is why I save my Sephora points: sometimes there are very good things you can get with them. While this scent is too fruity/sweet for me, the bottle is cool and who wouldn't want to own the first black perfume? Plus, if I used it, then the bottle wouldn't look the same without its inky liquid.

10) R. Atkinson Fox's "Sunset Dreams" - Let me tell you the story here. Last November or December, when I was Christmas shopping at an antique store, I saw this print. I loved it, but left it there since I hadn't been planning on a purchase for myself. But I soon returned for it, only to find it gone. Then I went to a different store this weekend and found it again. We were meant to be. You'll have to forgive my poor picture of it: I haven't learned how to wrestle against reflections in glass.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Disney: Character Chocolate Boxes

It's usually very hard to find chocolate on the Disneyland Resort. Chocolate cookies and chocolate-dipped ice cream abound, but otherwise there is very little. Sometimes you can find the Mickey Mouse milk and dark chocolate bars, and this time there were also the chocolate mints I went over already. Further, the collection of character-based candy boxes were all very chocolate-centered when I examined them at World of Disney. I got one. Then I came back and got another. Come on, it's Disney and chocolate put together: I couldn't resist. 

At six dollars for 79 grams in the first box and 92 grams in the second, we know this stuff is vastly overpriced. Sure, the boxes are cute and fun and I enjoyed finding my favorite designs/characters, but they're just cardboard boxes. If they were reusable, a higher price could be justified. As it is, the price justification falls to the chocolate and I knew before I opened the boxes that they wouldn't be worth it.

The Beauty and the Beast box has Milk Chocolate Raspberry Rose. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are eight chocolates inside, sitting in a plastic tray and formed in rose molds. Because I wasn't expecting any sort of shape to the molds, I did find them rather pretty. "Rose," then, refers to shape and not to flavor. The flavor is simply artificial raspberry; we all know what that tastes like. The inside of the roses has a candy version of chocolate ganache that adds some casual interest to the chocolates.

While the Alice in Wonderland Milk Chocolate Mint Meltaways use peppermint oil instead of artificial mint, this is one of the few cases where you will find mint in milk chocolate instead of dark. There's a reason why most companies will at least make a mild, sweet dark chocolate for mint instead of simply putting it in milk chocolate. Milk chocolate and mint, most often, are too cloying together, and this case is no exception. Because of the combination, this mint doesn't even taste fresh. There is also no theming to the molds here: simple rectangles bear the likeness of Mickey Mouse instead of something in the Alice theming. The same faux ganache (or "dark confection," as the ingredients list calls it) sits in the center. 

I realize that the average visitor to Disneyland is not nearly such a chocolate snob as I am. But there are candy chocolates that taste good (like Reese's Cups and Nestle KitKats), and I don't think I am the only one who would enjoy having more chocolate options (just imagine a collaboration with Ghirardelli, at least). Maybe if I keep buying all the filler chocolate just because I can't resist the boxes, Disney will get the hint that there is demand in the chocolate world?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Disney Pins Begin to Overfloweth

As you can see, I have been scattered of late, hence the slower pace of posting. Strange thing is, I would sometimes post more when I was supposedly so busy with college; the reason for this, though, was that I was always on the computer and would start posts while procrastinating on schoolwork. Anyway, today I am just doing a quick run-through of my Disney pin collection. I used to think I had a lot, until I saw one or two other pin collections. The only extreme thing about my collection is that, up until now, I have always worn all of them when visiting the parks. Yessir, that's two full lanyards on one five foot person. Come on, I'm used to wearing lots of necklaces, anyway. 

I used to keep the pins in order, but I've had to change that lately. I also used to just get one pin per day I spent in the parks. That changed. I got five pins just this last time because I was having so much fun and kept going back for more. Oh, yes, and one more thing: I never trade my pins. I know it's called Disney Pin Trading, but once I have a pin I've picked out, I don't want to part with it; they're my pins and I want to keep them. 

We'll start with the pink lanyard's top left side and go down, then back up. Then we'll do the same with the purple lanyard, aye? Next time I'm around, I'll need to get a third lanyard (I don't really want to put them in one of the pin books). And I'll have to choose just one lanyard's worth of pins to wear at once. 

The first pin is for the Jedi Training Academy, but I got it because I've been loving all the Star Wars pins around lately. Star Wars and Disney together? Yes, please--within bounds, that is. Next is the Tinkerbell pin, which is one of the first five I got, along with the Partners statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse standing in front of the castle (classic Disney magic), the heart locket with Belle inside, the Pirates of the Caribbean dog with the ship in the background (Pirates was one of my favorite rides at this time), and the Cinderella pin at the bottom. Below the pirates pin is a celebratory circle for the 50th anniversary, during which I went at least three times. Then there is a little Matterhorn pin and the classic Disneyland sign pin, which I got this last time.

Moving back up is a Narnia pin, which flips over to have Aslan on the back. Another meeting of worlds: Disney and Narnia. Then a little Minnie Mouse and a classic Mickey Mouse. Above that are the Tower of Terror, with a moveable elevator shaft, and the fire engine from Main St. Then there is the castle with a rotating background of fireworks. You can also see Mickey and Minnie dressed as pilgrims; I would have preferred a turkey pin, but I love Thanksgiving, so I had to get this one last week. I also picked up the two little button pins from a bowl on the counter: Snow White for classicism and the Mad Hatter for absurdism. 

On to the purple lanyard, beginning with another Star Wars pin that I got earlier this summer. It's Yoda looking up at a height limit sign and remarking about judging based on size; as a short person, I felt drawn to it, I suppose. Then the animated crew is riding on one of the trains (this is the same pin I put against Robyn Schneider's book a few days ago). Next come the Haunted Mansion and Mickey dressed as a magician, pulling Donald out of a hat. The next two are some of my favorites: the crocodile from Peter Pan, eating Captain Hook, and Mr. Toad, complete with a moveable car. Then come the Teacups, fully spinnable--this was one pin I remember wanting for a while. Another Matterhorn pin commemorate its 50th anniversary. At the bottom is a nice and big Tower of Terror pin, with Donald ushering you into the moveable doors. Alice and Company sit back in another Teacups pin, above which sits a Disneyland Resort passport for Mickey Mouse. California Screamin' has its own moveable car, and Mickey as the Sorceror's apprentice holds a 3D hat with magic inside. Above that is DCA's Storytellers statue of a younger Walt and Mickey, newly arrived in California. Then Maleficent advertises Fantasmic and the two Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp pose together. I like those cats almost as much as the crocodile, so I was excited to find them even though their pin is flat and, as you can see, I much prefer 3D pin. Moveable parts, raised layers, and uniqueness are what I love. And pins take up much less space than other things you can buy at DL. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Beginning of Everything

It was through YouTube that I found out about Robyn Schneider and it is mainly her videos that I have been enjoying, especially the ones on her beauty channel--she helped introduce me to the idea of fashion as self-expression rather than trend-following. I have read one of her early books, but The Beginning of Everything, out just last month, somehow feels like her first novel. She was much younger when she wrote the others, and this book is more like what I would have expected from her after watching her colorful, unique personality online. 

The Beginning of Everything begins with a short, important scene in Disneyland. On Thunder Mountain, to be specific. Given that I finished reading the book just days before going to the park, I couldn't resist taking a picture of it in Frontierland. I spend around four hours with the book in my purse that morning, even though I knew Thunder Mountain has been closed for months. I was still hoping to get a picture of the book with the mountain in the background, but in the end I settled for a shot by the abandoned mine trail just across the pathway from the ride. Let me tell you, there was no one standing in this corner when I got there, but as soon as I stopped and got my camera out, suddenly other people seemed to find the quiet corner compelling, as well.

Besides the bright yellow jacket, the book itself is also quite attractive. It's also in yellow, with its own roller coaster in blue. (Let me add that neither coaster looks anything like Thunder Mountain, but oh, well.) My Disneyland train (not Thunder Mountain train) pin decided to go for a ride. (What do you think? Should I do a post cataloguing all of my pins?)

But now on to the novel. I have mixed feelings about this book. It was also odd to read because, while I don't know Robyn Schneider, I do watch her videos; the only other person I've watched and then read is Kaleb Nation. So there were things I recognized from her personality or interests. There are some nerdy references scattered around. The Gatsby poodle, naturally, is the best; that dog will go down in history. And while I'm mentioning Gatsby, the lights, I love the lights. The green light is one of my favorite things about The Great Gatsby, so I was happy to see it have some sort of presence here, physically and thematically. Some of my favorite quotes in this book centered around watching light and hope. 

As I moved in, I built up expectations. I met certain characters and plot elements and thought I knew where it was all going. And then I finished the book and found out why the UK title is Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. That title is wonderful after you've read the book. It's a heartbreaking sort of discovering-yourself book. Ultimately, it seems to say that your reactions and your choices are always yours, whatever circumstances hit you. And that's a theme to appreciate. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Disney: Chocolate Mints & Fruit Hard Candy

Okay, so I was in Anaheim again (all is right in the world!). And naturally, the first thing I bought was this little tin of Chocolate Mints. There isn't a huge amount of chocolate on the Disneyland Resort, so I went for whatever I came across (except for the chocolate martini many of the hotel restaurants serve--the time for it never came). The tin is a standard Altoids size, just slightly on the vintage side of style. On the side of the lid, you'll find the label "Good ol' fashioned flavor." 

Maybe, for once, the label's right. There are only five ingredients, with cocoa powder and peppermint oil giving the flavor and sorbitol acting as sweetener. For a candy, that's not terrible--though I would have preferred straight sugar instead of sorbitol. But mainly it's the fact that there are cocoa powder and peppermint oil in here instead of artificial chocolate and mint flavors that impresses me: artificial flavor are much too overused.

The mints are in the shape of different characters. When they're all in a bundle, it's hard to distinguish them. You can, however, just make out Mickey and Minnie standing there on top. What's cute about the molds is that they're front and back. Turn Donald around and you can see his back as if he were a doll instead of a mint. I do think the matte, grainy color isn't terribly appealing--but I suppose it's better to keep it than to add a ton of colorings. Though they remind me of the Flintstones vitamins I got sometimes when I was young, the mints aren't chewable until you're sucked on them for a moment. They're also not terribly minty. It's more of a chocolate flavor, but a flavor closer to the bitter side, considering that it comes from cocoa powder. Definitely more often going to be a mint for adults. I wouldn't call them great; they're okay, but I still like them more for the idea than anything.

The Minnie Mouse container is the kind you open by pressing the top and close by pressing in on the sides. It isn't chocolate, but I got it anyway with the idea of keeping it in my purse with other mints or candies or even Advil or something. It's that kind of small size that won't get in your way. The back says that there is fruit hard candy inside. I was picturing something clear. But instead we have these chalk-colored circles:

Now, I know I confessed to liking chalky candy. But these can hardly count in that category. They're harder and chewier than my usual chalk candies, so the texture is already different from what I tend to like. Plus they taste terrible. Terrible. Horrible. If I don't throw the rest away, I'm crazy. I thought maybe it was just one flavor, so I had to eat all the different colors. Some do taste better or worse than others, but they all taste like pine cleaner. Come on, Disney, have a little more respect for your customers. We both know that we'll buy something like this just because it's Disney, but at least have the decency to make it edible. Make a deal with Smarties and put Smarties in here. Or something from Necco. Just not this.

Oh, well. At least I have the luxury of being able to complain about what I bought at World of Disney (you know, the shop on Downtown Disney). I love that never-ending store. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hansel & Gretel and E.T.

It occurred to me that both E.T. and Hansel and Gretel deal with themes of children versus adults and hunger of some sort. To draw such a comparison is, I think, no more or less odd than what comparisons I usually make.

Let's begin with the adults. I feel like Hansel and Gretel is one of those stories that most people know multiple versions of--most of the time we know that stories have multiple versions, but we're really only familiar with one or two. Red Riding Hood is probably the one we also all know multiple versions of. In Hansel and Gretel, sometimes the parents and children simply got separated; other times, they purposely left them in the woods. Sometimes they only left them temporarily, and sometimes they were trying to get rid of them. I think one version has the only the mother trying to get rid of them. The only version that this theme won't appear in so much is the one where the children get separated in an innocent way.

One way to see a story about children getting lost is that children should stay with their parents to stay safe. But when there is something sinister or untrustworthy about the parents, then the theme switches. Children become innocent and adults . . . are not innocent. This is what reminds me of E.T. In the movie, there is a sort of "us and them" about children and adults, even though not all the younger crowd always get along and some of the adults turn out to be trustworthy or helpful. In both stories, a child's innocence is more accepting, whereas an adult's greater exposure to the world has a negative influence.

Now on to the hunger. You've heard this interpretation of Hansel and Gretel, right? That it's a metaphor for gluttony or some such thing. The children are tempted by a house that they can eat, and the witch is a cannibal because she wants to eat them. You could, in turn, say that the theme of hunger is a metaphor for other types of hungers--like, say, the hunger of the scientists in E.T. They're not simply curious: they want to take control of everything and perform experiments and all that just to satisfy their hunger for knowledge and power. Like eating a house when you're hungry, there's a point where seeking scientific knowledge is justified--but there's also a line that you can cross to go too far.

You can describe both of these stories as magical, disturbing, and symbolic, depending on how you look at them. That's what keeps the interest in them alive: they're up for interpretation.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Imagination, Mind, and Heart

As I mentioned before, I read only the first ten books in A Series of Unfortunate Events years ago and have only now picked up the complete set to read from start to finish, plus Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters. Back then, my interest in the series grew as I read along, delving deeper into the mystery and getting more used to the quirky narrative style. But this time I enjoyed myself more. 

Part of the reason for this is that I know just a tad more now than I did then. We all know that the series, instead of simply being an accumulation of ridiculousness, also has quite a few references to other things. I got some of them before. But surely I got many more this time. (The Virginian Wolfsnake that you're not supposed to let near a typewriter . . . that one's hilarious.) Also, having more of an idea of the type of story helps you enjoy it for what it is. It's comedy, it's Gothic, it's silly, it's punny, it's dramatic, and a little mysterious. It's really a fabulous series. What I couldn't imagine was how such a thing would end. What kind of an ending do you give something like this?

Everyone else discovered the answer long before I did, of course. The ending wasn't quite what I wanted . . . and I didn't know what to expect . . . but I really like it. It doesn't give the final accumulation of answers I was hoping for, but that's part of the theme. The final page of a book will forever be what breaks the spell of fiction (what breaks the spell that fiction is reality); yet by admitting that one book cannot contain everything, fiction can sometimes in fact be more realistic. Thematically, this series reaches an incredible and poignant final realization or moment. Somehow, the island and what the Baudelaires feel there reminds me of the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which, you will recall, is part of The Chronicles of Narnia). I'm thinking specifically of when the characters take the boat out to sail over the white lilies. There is a feeling of calmness, of comfort, and of completion that does not need to be accompanied by the world's definition of safety and completeness. It's a very personal, kind of spiritual feeling.

One final note. I read the Lemony Snicket autobiography quickly. Because it came out before the whole series had been published, I think perhaps it must have been more interesting then than now. Now, it didn't offer me too many answer to my questions and so I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. The Beatrice Letters, on the other hand, was fantastic. It's mysterious and funny and I'm not quite sure what to make of everything in it, either--but in a good way. It introduces more questions than it answers, but it was delightful all the same.

Alright, that will do. A voyage for the imagination, the mind, and the heart.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Trader Joe's: Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels

I've explained this all before, somewhere. When at Trader Joe's buying the usual items of bread and cucumbers and oatmeal, I like usually to buy at least one sweet thing. Perhaps a box of cookies or a bar of chocolate will do. Because, as I have also explained, I like to keep tabs on what chocolate Trader Joe's sells: some of it is high quality in disguise, while some of it is simply average. 

Being capable of sitting on a shelf for many months, the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels are not going to be fresh, artisan confections. However, as something you pick up when buying groceries and promptly stow away in your purse to nibble on, they don't leave much to be desired. The little purple packet has a handful of soft caramels dipped in chocolate. What elevates the caramel, and the chocolate for that matter, is the Tahitian vanilla. This vanilla, I might add, is only one of three types in the entire candy; however, even a portion of the total vanilla is enough to add a more fresh and flavorful edge to the whole. 

The primary flavor is that vanilla. The chocolate and the chewiness remind me of brownies, but like very rich brownies because of the vanilla flavor. If there is any cheapness within either the caramel or chocolate, it is masked by the vanilla. In fact, I don't feel that I can give you any real feedback on the chocolate because of how disguised it is. The softness, along with the pearl size, makes these caramels addicting. They're much better than grocery store chocolates and are also toward the upper side of the Trader Joe's selection. Standing right between sweet and rich, they're worth reaching out for.