Friday, October 19, 2018

Woodblock Chocolate: 70% Dark

How could I possibly resist the packaging of this little 70% Dark Chocolate bar from Woodblock Chocolate? How? I'm a Victorian at heart in many ways, so the fluffy roses against the cream background and the name and the whole "handmade in this one city in Oregon" thing just won me over. The tiny bar doesn't really have any info on cacao origin, so I knew I was possibly bending my chocolate rules a bit by buying this one, but I decided that the whole handmade thing would be enough, if nothing else.

Now, I'll note here that I didn't look up the company until after I'd put together my tasting notes (you never want to read the good things a company has to say about itself until after you've tasted the chocolate, otherwise you'll bias yourself, one way or another). But it turns out that they do have specific information on their website about the plantations where they obtain their cocoa. This bar is their house blend, which is the Cajamarca, Peru together with Balau, Ecuador. Woodblock adds nothing to the chocolate except for sugar. They describe this house blend as essentially being an elevated version of the familiar, what I would call something approachable that is also better than what you might be used to. That is, something that will be easy to take in for someone who hasn't had much artisan chocolate and also something that will work well with added flavors.

This chocolate is exactly what they promise.

I've already mentioned how lovely the packaging is. The roses, by the way, are there because Portland, Oregeon is apparently the "City of Roses." This bar is quite small at just 25 grams, which I naturally like because I think that most chocolate bars are in fact too big. Smaller bars will encourage us to support better quality and better ethics in the chocolate that we consume.

The design of the chocolate goes along with the "woodblock" concept. The more masculine, woodsy look sets nicely against the feminine, rosey look of the outside. The chocolate smells deep and silvery, akin to something like Ghirardelli. It snaps well. Initially a little hint of bitterness plays around the edges of thought, not quite tangible but just enough to give it a little twist. There is that taste of sugar in there where it's kind of a separate element. A little bit in, the flavors develops more into a chocolate richness, becoming warm and deep. Essentially ti's that straightforward and strong and great cocoa flavor.

What this chocolate is is a wonderful example of a nice and solid dark chocolate. Familiar, endearing, comforting, and straightforward. The elegant, handmade look of the packaging (and Woodblock's own description on their website) perfectly describes what this chocolate brings. Nicely done. This was another chocolate I found at World Market and I only picked up the one bar. So while I don't know if I'll be seeing anymore around, I'll now feel free to get more if I do come across more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thrawn: Alliances

Of course everyone who loves the character of Thrawn was excited about the sequel book Thrawn: Alliances that came out late this summer. I, however, was excited when I found out late in that the book was going to feature Padme--and Padme/Anakin. (Who else is super excited that Claudia Gray has a book about Padme coming out next year? We need more Padme. And then how about a book about Shmi Skywalker? No? Anyone? Just me on that one?)

One half of the story takes place in the "present," which is during the time between Episodes III and IV. The other half takes place in the past, which is the Clone Wars era. There are interesting aspects to the present storyline: you get to see dynamics between Vader and Thrawn and all of that. Mainly, though, it was the past that lured me in.

I love to see that time. I like to see Padme at her best, as the double figure of ambassador and heroine. And I like to see Padme and Anakin's relationship, specifically the ways in which they lived that double life. They're steadfastly connected and they do work together publicly but they're also trying to pretend that they're just casual acquaintances.

And then there is also the Vader/Anakin connection. That's where the present storyline was great to watch, as well: you saw the shadow of Anakin over Vader. There is this sense of the past that he suppresses and tries to pretend doesn't exist--but it's still there.

Hmm. Obi-Wan said that Vader killed Anakin and that when Vader came into being Anakin died. But did he? Can you truly kill a good person? A good person can let destruction reign, yes. But does goodness die so easily?

So, anyways, while I didn't overly care about what the plot was or wasn't (it had an element of mystery/curiosity to it, but I was never curious to discover what was going on), I did enjoy what this book offered as far as characterization, which is of course what I'm after from Star Wars in the end, anyways.

(And yes, Disneyland fans, including me, will love the inclusion of Black Spire Outpost, as well.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Writing Adventures: Part 13

So. I've had this draft sitting for a while. I only add to it bit by bit because it's hard right now to have time to really sit with it and let it develop more. However, I think I'm going to let it sit even more because I think I have something else to do first.

The idea first came in to my head some months ago. Now it's more prevalent, and it's one of those things where I feel that if I'm considering it at all, then that means I must see it through.

So my second book may not in fact be my second novel. Instead, it might be what I suppose for now we'll just call more of a non-fiction piece. Probably something quite short, unless it develops into more that I can't see yet.

As I've had some more days here and there to myself and as simultaneous contentment and concern have bubbled within me, I've felt more content to spend a random hour or even just half hour in the evening writing. I'm not just tired wanting to relax; I want to work on this my chosen craft. (Did I chose it, though? Or was it chosen for me? If the latter, then even more reason for me to develop it.)

I have things I want to share and maybe need to share. With how many people I don't know and that doesn't matter; even one person would be enough. So the other manuscript will continue sitting (maybe I'll still work on it at my turtle pace; we'll see) while I try and focus on this new project.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Blanxart: Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts

The chocolate reviews are starting to pile up again, so it's time to maybe start doubling up once more.

When I went to World Market in September, it felt like I hadn't been there in a while--and felt even more so when I walked in and found many new products, including chocolates. Now, World Market used to get in new chocolates around the new year and they would pretty much have those for a year before switching out again. But these days I'll see a different brand for a few weeks maybe and then never see it again. Or maybe I'll randomly find it months later on the sale shelves. So I've learned to just go ahead and buy what I want when I see it, otherwise I might lose my chance.

I, as you know, am trying to keep certain standards when it comes to chocolate. Certain ethical standards. But sometimes I'm flexible. This bar was just too tempting with its rustic, Old World. And it's made in Spain. There's just something about chocolate made in Spain that lures me in, makes me want to at least try it. And it always seems to be milk chocolate that I find from Spain. All of this plus the fact that there are hazelnuts in this chocolate meant that I just had to get it.

The thick bar has a simple and plain look that adds to the old-fashioned style. Biting into one of the chunks reveals first the taste of the hazelnuts. You only begin to taste the chocolate really towards the end, once it's more melted. By that point, you have plenty of hazelnut taste in your mouth, so the two flavors really blend, which is of course wonderful. I'm also getting something of a cinnamon flavor. Either there are spices hidden in the ingredients list or it's just the way all the flavors are put together or I'm just making it up. However it is, I do get more of a warm flavor to the chocolate that makes me think of cinnamon. It makes me feel very at home.

All of that said, this chocolate bar is light on chocolate flavor. As you can see, it's a 33% cocoa content chocolate, which is light, although light is also pretty normal when it comes to milk chocolate. I don't, in this case, mind at all, though. It's milk chocolate and it's hazelnut chocolate and there is enough flavor going on that it doesn't need to be all about the chocolate. Not always.

Sure, this isn't what I'd call a gourmet bar at all. Yet I'm quite fond of it. If I had a little more info on sourcing and if it were readily available to buy all the time, I'd recommend it as a go-to candy/snacking bar.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Black Butterfly: Fleur de Sel Caramel Snack Bar

After telling everyone of the prettiness of Black Butterfly's new Snack Bars this summer without showing any pictures, now I've at last had one of these chocolates smuggled over to me, intact and unmelted, from Prescott. And this time it's probably a flavor more after my tastes, the classic Fleur de Sel Caramel.

Now you can see the pretty (even with my lack of photography skills). You see how it's basically a combination of a chocolate bar and a truffle? An approachable twist and a sure temptation. In this bar, the little bubbles are what contain the caramel.

While some salted caramels are subtly salty, this one isn't. This one is salty enough that salt is probably the strongest flavor element of all. I like best to just bite a whole bubble off, so that you burst through the chocolate base and the chocolate shell into this flowy, salty, and sweet caramel. The Snack Bar concept kind of allows shall we say a more reckless approach. I never put a whole truffle in my mouth--yet I don't feel bad to eat one of these bubbles in one bite. And doing so is what allows that complete texture experience.

Besides the salt, the caramel of course also comes in with its pleasant vanilla flavor. While sometimes Black Butterfly's milk chocolate (which comes in at 41% cocoa) tastes sweet to me, here I do taste more of that richness of the higher (for milk chocolate) percentage). The chocolate also amplifies the vanilla flavors.

Possibly the caramel might be a tad too salty for me, yet I've still much enjoyed this chocolate. When you have a flavor that's more to your tastes and you have such a setting as this, it's very easy to just eat the whole bar in one go. Which, as I keep mentioning, is kind of the idea of these Snack Bars. Wholeheartedly approachable and tempting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's Fall

The later part of September was a tad warmer than usual this year. Normally by that point the edge of the heat has come off, but this time we had an earlier cooler spell (as in, less hot spell) followed by one last hot spell before the switch to October brought the sudden onset of Fall.

The nights cool off enough now that it takes a little bit of time for the day to heat enough to actually be hot instead of just comfortable and pleasant. In fact, the nights are suddenly cool enough that I just switched to my winter sheets.

The air tastes different. The baked scent of summer is gone, turned crisp instead. The colors around the Phoenix area don't change much until January, but if you drive even just a little north, you'll find the greens beginning to fade and the leaves beginning to disappear.

The light has changed. It's now dark in the morning when I get up. And the sun is already flirting with the horizon by the time I'm heading home--the nice part about that is that I get to see all the brilliant pink colors while I drive.

These changes have been happening over the last few days, but it was this morning that I felt wrapped up by Fall. I felt cozy and comfortable and happy. I made a second cup of tea. In the morning, I put on my cashmere house sweater (that means that it's mended and not for wearing out but still ridiculously comfy for home use), and by late morning, I had all the windows open to finally let the place air out after the long summer.

I felt wrapped up by all that Fall beckoned. A touch of Halloween perhaps, but mainly the promise of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Turkeys and tablecloths and cookies and pies and family. The holiday season is a good time, a time when we're constantly thinking of ways to bring cheer to the short and dark and (sometimes) cold days.

Thanks be for the beauty of the changing seasons.

Friday, October 5, 2018

La Naya: Juniper & Natural Orange Flavored Milk Chocolate

I have some more orange chocolate for you this week, this time because La Naya just makes chocolate bars look and sound so appealing that I had to try this one despite not being too fond of orange chocolate. And once again, the risk paid off: this chocolate is quite good.

The fact that this Juniper & Natural Orange Flavored bar is also a milk chocolate also seemed a little odd to me: isn't orange paired more often with dark chocolate than with milk? That being said, the citrus smell when I broke the seal on the packaging was refreshing and, despite any hesitation on my part, kind of enticing. Once more, it's a pretty La Naya bar design, geometric and soft at the same time.

The taste surprised me. It didn't taste like orange in the same way that it smelled like orange. Along with the orange, I also tasted strong flavor notes in the milk chocolate. Spices. The effect made the milk chocolate appear deep and complex. The flavors mellowed out somewhat as I approached the end, which was creamier with a zing of orange zest.

I mentioned that I enjoyed Chocolate Organiko's Orange and Pepper bar because it was a different and successfully different interpretation of orange chocolate. The same goes here, except perhaps in an even stronger and more poetic way. I feel like I've never tasted chocolate like this. Such flavors (mainly with the addition of juniper) usually only come in with truffles. That's where people will experiment a little or add the essence of flavor less commonly associated with chocolate. Yet why not have the same freshness in a chocolate bar, as well?

I might add in the description that La Naya provides. "Emotional structure: Easter morning in Vatican, orange fruit, sunlight, imminent victory, juniper." That is absolutely a lovely description of this chocolate. And I don't need to wax poetic about its flavor because the chocolate has already done so itself. It's absolutely fascinating and fresh and intriguing and highly recommended, even if you also hesitate about orange chocolate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We Honor Your Memory

There was a time, for several years, when I couldn't watch movies to do with war or anything like that because I was still struck by the very real human experience of tragedy. I was, after some of the reading I did in Holocaust Studies in high school (particularly The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak) still heartbroken by the fact that bad things happen to real people, not to "the people bad things happen to." It's almost like I was in mourning and couldn't get near anything sad to do with war, etc. because it just brought up anew the pain for these people.

And then, as this maybe started to fade without me realizing it, I kind of started to feel like maybe I didn't want to watch war movies or such because I wanted to watch movies for entertainment and so real tragedy wasn't entertainment.

And now I think I've been easing back in. A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is interesting to see if you're used to seeing Natalie Portman in Star Wars and forget that she was born in Israel. It made me realize how little I know about Israel's (recent) history. Or The Promise with Oscar Isaac; that certainly made me feel ignorant. So by the time I finished Colonia with Emma Watson, I resigned myself to the fact that there are so many countries with so much history that, well, I wouldn't know all of it unless I made world history (especially recent world history) my area of focus (which is not, of course, to say that we shouldn't always strive to know more than we currently know).

Especially with that last film, there was kind of this sense as it ended of the fact that the audience was simply giving acknowledgement to the people who experienced sorrow. This world is filled with darkness. And sometimes films simply allow us to remember people's sorrow or to give voices to the people who were silenced. We don't have to be going in to war films for the horror factor; we can simply experience such films in order to honor the memory of the people portrayed. In doing so, we are acknowledging the fact that every person matters and every person's life is important and significant. Every smile and every tear is precious.

May we never not be saddened by tragedy.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires

'Tis that time again, the time in which I wander around to the theatre and the ballet and the opera. The first of the season was also part of Arizona Opera's new McDougall RED series. With these, they're going for shows with a slightly different tone or style and putting them in the smaller Herberger Theatre rather than the grand Symphony Hall. 

Even that change means quite a big. While Symphony Hall is so big that you can buy last minute tickets for the opera no problem, Herberger is small enough that seats were getting filled up much sooner. As per usual, I took the very back balcony row, even though this was my first time at Herberger and I wasn't sure how a seat in that row would be. Turns out, though, that this seat was perfectly great. Though the balcony is greatly tiered, it wasn't to the point that you felt like you were going to fall over (like at a big arena), simply that it was tiered so that you could be closer to the stage and with a clearer view than if there were little or no tiering. The small size of the theatre was more comparable to watching a play at the Mesa Arts Center than to watching an elaborate opera or ballet at Symphony Hall.

Indeed, the show itself, Maria de Buenos Aires, was almost more like watching a play than an opera. Celeste Lanuza as El Duende made me think of something like spoken word in the way that she wasn't quite singing but not quite just speaking, either. And while opera tends to be about big shapes and movements that you can see far away (with the main emphasis on sound rather than sight), this show made a little more of movement. It's a tango opera, so of course there was dancing, but also other types of movement that went along to help tell the story. 

And the story? A story of sorrow, the story of a woman who is born from the toying meddling of El Duende to a life of pain. Yet also the story of a woman who feels deeply and, led by a song in her soul, pictures great things. Is it a story of triumph over darkness? No, not really. Triumph hardly seems to describe what the ending felt like: it felt more like taking a breath after struggling to hold it beneath water for a very long time. 

I don't know. I think this opera was more about the feeling of each moment than a particular theme. As you'd expect from a tango opera, it is often deeply moving and sensual and striking and bold and did I mention moving? 

The audience knew going in to expect something different. You could get the vibe in the first few scenes that everyone was kind of trying to get their bearings and figure out what type of a show this was, but by the time Maria (portrayed by Catalina Cuervo) sang "Yo Soy Maria," we were all enthralled in this weird web of red darkness. I don't have the words to describe Catalina Cuervo singing as Maria. She has been in this role over 50 times, and so it would seem that she has entirely embodied the passion and sorrow of this character. She took hold of the whole audience. And when Luis Alejandro Orozco joined her as the Payador, it was . . . like this beautiful passion of love that they were singing. 

While an opera is usually close to three hours, this was only an hour and a half (which is kind of nice for a modern audience because you can just focus in on enjoying rather than getting either antsy or sleepy before the end). Yet it felt like it covered so much that it couldn't have been so short as that. Fascinating and striking. That is what Maria de Buenos Aires was. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Chocolate Organiko: Orange and Pepper

When I put up the trio of Chocolate Organiko posts a little while ago, I apparently left out the fourth bar, the Orange and Pepper. Fitting, I suppose, that it would be such a tiny bar as this that I would have overlooked.

Orange isn't normally a flavor I reach for in chocolate. The addition of pepper in here, though, begs curiosity. The aroma is of orange. While I suppose there must be plenty of people who like orange chocolate, I'm not wrong to imagine that most people don't care for it, am I? Flavor-wise, orange comes in with a weird, sort of cloying taste when it's inside of chocolate. It just feels odd.

The thing is, though, the addition of pepper here was a great idea. The pepper lessens that mellow, cloying orange flavor and enhances the bright and sparkly, fruity flavor. In this way, you get more of the bouncy, peppery feel of bergamot rather than simply orange.

There is little else to add about the dark chocolate. It's just the neutral base, a standard 70%, neither sweet nor bitter.

Orange still isn't my favorite chocolate flavor combination. Yet if you're going to put the two together, this is the way to go. Rather than wondering who I can give this chocolate away to, I'm finding it pleasant to nibble at. The orange adds sweetness to the chocolate while the pepper adds an extra layer of interest to keep it sparkly and make certain that the flavor is a changing, developing thing rather than simply a stagnant orange in chocolate taste.

Just goes to show how trying something a little different (either from what you'd normally get or from what you're used to seeing) can turn out quite well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Hanging with Giraffes

Walking up to the main area at Out of Africa is often one of the best moments there, particularly on quiet days. You're walking through the corridor between the two safari areas. Sometimes there will be zebras hanging out just on the other side of the fence. Most often, though, you will see either Pilgrim on the right or Kibo on the left. They're the two giraffes and they hang around the fence because the safari buses feed them snacks.

Or sometimes they find their own snacks. On my way out of the park earlier this month, Kibo was reaching his beautiful long neck over the fence to munch away at this brambly crunchy. As in, his neck was just right there next to me. (Although, it can be noted that I have in fact been closer to Kibo before. When feeding him and Pilgrim, I always opt for the "kiss" of putting the celery or leaf or whatever it is in my mouth to hold out to them. And one time, the safari guide brought him inside the bus. That is, she had treats for him inside, so that his neck was literally stretched out in the open space above my lap. Possibly she did this because she recognized frequent visitors and knew we would respect him and not touch him. It's amazing to stare at a giraffe's neck right under your nose.)

Then he would lift his head up to the sky. It had rained a bit that afternoon, so there were bouncy clouds in the sky, making him look all majestic. 

Next time you see a giraffe, don't just say, that's a giraffe. Stare at it and think about what amazing creatures these are. Their thin and long legs, their necks, their ears, their eyes, their mouths, their colors, their patterns. 

Out of Africa is like a little gift. Getting to see these animals in all their glory, happy and content and gorgeous right before your eyes.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"Do I Have to Take a Tour?"

I have, for roughly the past year, been giving and/or observing the giving of tours in two quite different places. One of the most common threads? People's reluctance to in fact take a guided tour.

Maybe the word "tour" is intimidating to people. Maybe it reminds people of school or trying to stay on good behavior. And it is in our nature to dislike barriers or constraints, so perhaps the mere mention of a tour is, subconsciously, a threat to our sense of freedom.

Sure, sometimes there are practical reasons for reluctance. People who are short on time. People with children who are concerned that their children won't have the attention span for a tour. People who are concerned about their own attention spans. Sometimes, though, I think that people simply think they won't get anything out of a tour that they wouldn't be able to get on their own.

And when people who feel this way end up on a tour after all, they are pretty much always pleasantly surprised. They're fascinated by the things they learn, maybe even entertained by their guide's delivery or style. Either way, they feel like the time spent on the tour was spent well and they walk away with something to talk about, something that is in fact greater than what they would have had from just walking around on their own.

I admit that I'm probably not always one to seek out a guided tour, either. If I go to a place that has optional tours starting on the hour or something like that, I'll probably skip it. Yet if I go to a place where you simply end up on a tour by the very nature of visiting (like Hearst Castle, for instance), I end up well-pleased at how I was able to learn while also observing. Think about it: if you're reading signs or guidebooks, you're not able to look around while you're doing that reading. And if you're going somewhere with a group (which most people do), then either you feel like you're ignoring your group by reading everything or you feel like it's unnecessary to read everything because it would be better to just walk and talk with your group. But if you're all listening to a tour guide, then you're taking part together and receiving the information together and also having a conversation together (since most tours are small groups where the guide encourages a conversational style instead of just giving you a lecture).

Instead of saying, "Do I have to take a tour?" maybe we should be saying, "Are there any tours available?"

Friday, September 21, 2018

Eclipse Chocolate: Sea Salt Nib

Well, good thing I didn't pick up much chocolate while I was in California. I've still been kind of off schedule on posts, which means that chocolate posts can really start piling up.

While I didn't visit Eclipse Chocolate itself, I did get one of their bars from Rust General Store in Old Town San Diego. Now, Eclipse Chocolate, unless something has changed, doesn't make their own chocolate. That is, they don't make it from the bean; they make flavored chocolates and bars from the couverture.

Unfortunately, this chocolate seems a little old. It's a little hard and less quick to melt. Unless I'm reading the blurry best by date wrong (which is possible), it, ah, was pretty close to that date when I bought it. Kind of a shame and kind of odd given that Eclipse is in San Diego, so you'd think that Rust would be able to buy from them more often rather than buying less often, only to have unwanted stock siting on shelves overly long. Then again, I guess it's hard to guess about customers' wants, anyways. You think that they'll want to buy chocolate but then all they buy is candy, perhaps.

Tangent over. This particular bar is the Sea Salt Nib, which is "dark chocolate flecked with lavender herbed sea salt and candied cocoa nib." It's a 55% cocoa. Sometimes, yes, I do get tired of all the salted chocolate. I like salt, but I just get tired of the combination. This bar offers something unique, though.

The nibs work well with the salt because when you crunch on them, it feels like it's the salt that you're crunching on. Obviously, though, that isn't the case, because the salty level would be much higher, much too high, if the salt were so greatly crunchy. So with these two elements being there together, the crunch of the nibs is able to highlight the saltiness while also allowing the salt to remain at the proper proportion.

The chocolate is on the sweeter side of dark chocolate, since it is, after all, only a 55%. Not too much, though, just enough to keep the chocolate casual and focused on flavor combinations rather than simply chocolate flavors.

And the lavender? Well, if the label didn't say lavender, I don't think that I would know that there is lavender. I don't know if this is because I'm fairly immune to lavender as both a scent and a flavor. I use a lot of lavender scents at home and the black tea that I usually drink in the mornings has lavender in it. So it might be that I just don't notice it much unless it's strong. Once I'm looking for it, I imagine that I can detect a little bit of that peppery flavor in here, but I'm not certain. Even if it isn't strong with lavender, though, the salt truly is excellent.

The lavender element sounded like it would be the one to push things over the edge here, yet it was the addition of the nibs that made this bar unique. The nibs are what ended up making it stand out and what kept my interest even when other salted chocolates start to leave me bored after a while.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When the Desert Rains

When the desert rains, the land looks happy.

Sometimes it rains in a drizzle--and the plants, busy sucking up the water to store for the long months ahead, look greener than ever under the gray clouds.

Sometimes it rains in a monsoon--and the lightning bolts, the grand masters of drama, crash across the horizon like veins on a pair of hands.

The moisture doesn't make the earth smell like dirt or mud, or bland like wet grass. Instead, the rain brings out all the unique scents of the plants. And so it is that the smell of desert rain is unlike any other smell. It's like the smell of gratitude, from the plants and towards the water. It makes you feel so much more connected to the cycles of the land, so much more aware of what something like rain means to the health the earth.

When the desert rains, the land is happy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Antique or Vintage Finds?

"Vintage" is the cool term. "Antique" is the less approachable term, the one that evokes either expense or undesirable relics left in someone's attic over the decades. At least, that's what I seem to observe. To me, though, vintage means newer items, from the fifties and up. Forties and thirties are kind of in that in-between time where I'm not sure where to include them. Antiques are simply older than that. So when I think of vintage, I think of trinket jewelry and felted wool hats and things like that--so usually things to wear. When I think of antiques, I think of lasting items. The vintage things have only lasted a few decades if that, so whether or not they will last much longer is not always certain. But the antiques, they've made it and they will make it. Beautiful wood pieces, rich in their natural color and detailed in their design. Cameos carved of shell. Silver utensils and serving dishes. Etc.

And when I think of repurposing things, I have a different perspective than seems to be most popular at the moment.

I keep an antique serving dish to hold my chalk eraser and a little silver cup that holds the chalk itself. A Victorian biscuit jar I use to hold tea bags (since I don't use many tea bags, mainly just loose tea, I wanted a separate and neat place for the tea bags that I do end up having around). A brass toothbrush holder (at least, I think that's what it is) I use to hold my eyeliner while my makeup brushes I keep in a little crystal vase.

But things that are still useful as what they are? I keep them that way. Silverware. Hats. Pictures. Wooden tables and shelves (including my two beloved whatnot shelves) (remember, they need no paint: wood is beautiful). And the serving dishes that don't end up holding chalk or perfume or whatever else can also still hold food.

I'm of the perspective that if there are things that still exist that are nice, why make new things? If I can buy a nice antique coffee table, why buy a newly made one? If that silverware is still useful as silverware, why turn it into something else?

It's cool to be all "vintage style." But when I look around at my things, I'm amazed at how many antiques I keep around me and just use as part of my day. I don't really do the vintage thing. I just look for quality pieces that I like that I know will last, things that lasted someone else's lifetime and will last my lifetime and will last someone else's lifetime once I'm gone.

I guess that's why I think of vintage as little bits of clothing, like a silk scarf or a pair or silver earrings, that I add to an outfit and antiques as the things on which I build my home's style.

Antique versus vintage--what do the words mean to you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Star Trek Feel

I always said I would get around to watching the rest of the Star Trek series eventually. I grew up with The Next Generation, watched the original series in college, and got to Voyager last year. Now I've finally started in on Deep Space Nine.

Each new one can take some time to get used to and settle into. I'm not quite settled in yet. And still, from the beginning, I had that feeling of comfort and familiarity.

The style of not just the uniforms but the clothing in general. The types of characters (in a good way and a bad way). The ships. The stars. The techie/sciencey talk. The style of the aliens. And the music. Not the same music but the same type of music that I know. Maybe it was the music that made it feel so familiar.

It's weird. I always said I'm not a huge Star Trek fan . . . but that I do like it because I grew up with it. And it's so true. It's almost like I reluctantly find comfort in it, the way you turn to your favorite junk food that you usually don't buy but have to cave in and get sometimes.

I don't . . . like everything about Star Trek. And yet that isn't enough to keep me away. It isn't enough to keep me from getting excited to do some more exploring. Which in itself says something about the franchise, about the unique world that it established. It's a created world like that of a fantasy story, something tangible and recognizable and distinguishable from other worlds.

Trekking through stars, endlessly exploring.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Rust General Store: Rum Candies

While in the Historic Old Town District of San Diego, one of the places that I like to visit is Rust General Store. They sell soap and things and food products like spices and tea and candy and chocolate. I felt like there was less chocolate this time than before, but I think it was the same. It just wasn't new to me anymore. Still, one can't pass up opportunities to buy chocolate that one doesn't always come across, so I picked up another bar from Eclipse Chocolate and some of Rust's chocolate candies.

Last time I was there, I chose the Rose Petal Savories. This time I switched from girly to the perhaps more masculine option of Rum. And, you know, it's candy, so why not go for something reckless?

These are little round pieces of shiny chocolate like before, except that these came in a small rectangular container versus the larger pouch from last time. I did find a surprise when I attacked the first one: I found a sugary coating inside the chocolate that held a liquid inside. I realized I'd been expecting for the rum element to just be blended in with the chocolate.

Besides the fact that I hadn't expected anything liquid, I also found this odd because usually I associate the liquid alcohol-flavored chocolates with the ones that you need to be 21 and over to purchase. There were, however, no such restrictions for this one. This liquid tastes alcohol-y to me, but must not really be much, after all. Maybe they just overdosed the vanilla extract on purpose, eh? (And I can't look at the ingredients list for help because there is in fact no ingredients list.)

The overall taste is definitely better than that of the aforementioned 21 and over chocolate candies (the ones that are usually shaped like little bottles). The alcohol element in those just tastes weird to me and the chocolate is ridiculously cheap. This chocolate is better. It's more of what I want to call average chocolate but is in fact a little above average (average chocolate, unfortunately, means bad chocolate). The sugary coating throws me off a bit, though it does help to give that sweet rum effect.

Probably I personally preferred the Rose Petal Savories. And sure, a handmade rum truffle would beat these easy. Yet they're nice little nibbles, something to share as dessert perhaps.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I Was Just One

I was just one, solitary. 

Looking out to the horizon.

And then I met you--and we were two.

That's when the sun set on the past and the future began. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Jedi, Thou Art Not the Last

Has it really been nearly five years since Ian Doescher's Shakespeare's Star Wars series began? It was just one of those random, fun concepts that could have played out and died all in a moment, except that the combination works so naturally and he plays it out so well that . . . keep it coming.

When you begin the eight book in a series like this, you kind of pause, like, okay, here we are again. And you're not exclaiming over all the verses and the references like you did the first time, except that that's what suddenly makes it all so wonderful. You're reading it at a regular pace, like a piece that simply flows. This language, elevated and poetic, fits the story perfectly.

If there is anyone who had mixed feelings about character actions or motives in The Last Jedi, this is the perfect book to read. When I talked about The Force Doth Awaken, I mentioned how Ian was able to do less of a look into characters' heads than he'd done in previous books because for the first time he was going over a story where we only had one piece so far. He couldn't add extra bits about, for instance, Kylo's motives because we didn't really know all of his motives or all of his story yet. The same thing is happening here but to a lesser degree because, of course, there is much about the story that Episode VIII reveals. And even with what we don't know, he did such a beautiful job at expressing what we do know that it hid the fact that there may still be a little more to the story.

Kylo's conflict. Rey's similar identity crisis. Luke's feelings of failure. Poe's reasons for going against Holdo and Holdo's reasons for doing things the way she did.

As I've mentioned before, this series has moved on from being just a humor series. There are beautiful and genuinely moving passages in here. I particularly like the moment in which Kylo and Rey touch fingertips and also the moment when Kylo defeats Snoke. Does anyone truly think Kylo is weak; don't they see how much strength it would have taken to do the sneaky thing he did there? Wonderfully expressed.

So, yes, may this series live on.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Dagoba: Chocolate Mint Lip Balm

Something a little bit different today. It's a chocolate product but not an edible chocolate product. It's a chocolate beauty product, the Dagoba Chocolate Mint Lip Balm.

The thing is, even though it says Dagoba right in the center there, Dagoba makes chocolate not beauty products, so this lip balm is made by Eco Lips. The chocolate elements in the ingredients are cocoa butter, chocolate flavor, and cocoa powder. The cocoa butter of course makes a nice companion to the beeswax in a lip product. But the rest of it? A little weird--but perhaps there isn't any other way to make it.

I don't know exactly what ingredient(s) "chocolate flavor" means, but the chocolate flavor that you taste when you use this lip balm is more of the contrived type of chocolate flavor than the flavor of biting into a piece of chocolate. That doesn't really make it worth it to me, though it might for you. My guess would be that the cocoa powder is there just to give the balm the brown color that will make our minds think of chocolate more than if this were simply a white balm.

Honestly, though, the mint is probably stronger than the chocolate. You can almost forget that the chocolate is there but the mint will be present. Mint is kind of the go-to for lip products, isn't it?

Now back to that brown color for a moment. Might you be wondering if it will tint your lips? Possibly, depending on your own natural coloring. The first time I put it on, I thought I could discern just a slight earthy tone as opposed to zero difference if I use a completely untinted lip balm (not that this one is meant to be tinted). So I suppose if you are very fair-skinned, you might get a little bit of darker color from this one. I don't expect that even then it would be too noticeable, though.

It's a good lip balm, as far as lip balms go. I'm definitely for going more natural in beauty products: your skin absorbs things. And something you put on your lips? Well, that should definitely be something you would be willing to eat. So if you just need a lip balm, go for it. But if you're looking for a good angle on chocolate, well, I'd say that this isn't the most exciting option.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


As nice as it is to just wander a bookstore in search of something, something that you won't know until you find it, something that you won't find unless you go out wandering in search of it, there are always so many books that I already know about that I want to buy that it's difficult to work in the random finds, too. Still, I managed to sneak this one in.

I remember that it was on a display table at Barnes & Noble, but I don't remember what the display was. Something akin to Staff Recommends, I think (not that, but something like that). I was drawn in by the cover. That cover is absolutely beautiful and absolutely me; I would buy that portrait and hang it on my wall. What else is great is that Lang Leav also did her own illustrations for the book, so you'll find a couple more images on the inside.

Now, a cover is one thing and the inside can be another. This is a book of poetry and with poetry, well, it kind of just has to be your style. Either it is or it isn't. And it's usually easy with poetry to open up a book and read a random bit to get a sense of whether or not it's your style. I was so taken by Lang's style that I had to add this book to the ones already in my arms (the ones I'd planned to buy). Some books you just can't let out of your grasp.

"My Heart" and "Patience" are some of the early poems. When I read them, they hit me like waves. I was stunned. When poetry delivers beauty and personal resonance all in one, it just . . . isn't something you can describe. I felt Lang's words shockingly deeply.

Her style mingles poetry and prose. So every so often you'll come across a page or two of prose. "Patience," in fact, is prose. But it's all poetic prose and framed by verse, so it all combines. She writes in a style that's simple yet not stripped bare (which is a style that I don't tend to favor). Intensely emotional while also not sappy (though, granted, if you prefer not to read about emotions, well, then this won't be for you).

Basically these are love poems, some of the high points and some of the low points. That, honestly, isn't really what I'm used to reading. Maybe because of that I feel like I should mention that these words could potentially open up some heartbreak for anyone who might be missing someone, either someone they've never had or someone they once had. At the same time, though, that's kind of the idea of fiction: fiction opens us up and tears us apart and stuffs us with emotions partly ours or ours not at all. The more emotions it stirs up in us, the better we claim it to be.

Well. I suppose I'd better keep an eye out for more Lang Leav books (she has four more out; Lullabies was her second).

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dualities & Why Kylo Will Be Redeemed

I recently finished the junior novelization of The Last Jedi. It's worth reading both the regular and junior novelizations because they each include slightly different content, maybe different scenes or different looks into character motivation. This book made quite a point of showing the theme of failure--and then hinting at the connections between the different times of failures in the three plot lines of the story.

Finn and Rose go off to try and disable the First Order's tracker so that the Resistance can escape. They try and they fail and nearly get killed. Poe tries to reroute the Resistance to his rule by leading a mutiny against Holdo; he finds out in the end that he was wrong to not trust that she had a plan and that his actions have in fact destroyed that plan and allowed the First Order to nearly wipe them all out. Luke is trying to escape his failure to teach Ben Solo to be a good little Jedi and Rey is trying to reach out to Kylo and bring Ben back. Luke realizes that he shouldn't have just tried to leave it all and Rey realizes that bringing Ben back isn't so simple as just giving him the offer.

Everyone in this story fails. That's life; failure happens.

Finn and Rose's adventure is obviously connected to Poe's because Poe tries to take control of the Resistance in order to follow the plan the trio has made apart from Holdo's plan. But Rey's adventure is connected, too. She seeks something (a great teacher and helper) that she does not find and she goes after something that she does not achieve (the redemption of Kylo Ren).

Just the way that this junior novelization wrote everything out made me hear Rose's words about saving what we love versus killing what we hate in a new way. It made me think of everyone's attitudes towards Kylo/Ben. Luke and Leia have given up on him and don't think that he can be brought back. Rey thought that he could, only to find him still hanging on to his current path. But what if they're all going about it in the wrong way?

Don't kill what you hate (Kylo Ren). Save what you love (Ben Solo).

When Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, Anakin died and Vader took over. When Luke initiated Vader's redemption, Vader died and Anakin came back. What if the redemption of Kylo Ren happens differently?

Kylo says that Ben Solo was his old identity. The identity of Kylo Ren he created for himself; it was his way of separating himself from who his parents and his uncle tried to make him. It was his way of saying, this is who I am. I'm not the son whose father won't spend time with him. I'm not the son who can never live up to his mother's reputation. I'm not the nephew whose uncle fears him. I am all powerful. I can, not I can't.

So maybe, even though Kylo Ren is the representation of evil and wrong, just maybe there is something about his new identity that will linger. Ben Solo didn't feel comfortable trying to be Ben Solo. So he tried to be Kylo Ren and that only brought him more pain.

Maybe he will find the happy medium. After all, isn't he supposed to be the one who is composed to equal parts of the dark and light sides of the Force?

Kylo Ren won't become Ben Solo again. He will just accept that he is on the wrong path and readjust his path. Rey, in reaching out to him as he is, will say, I don't hate you, I care about you and I know you're better than this.

We fail when we ignore the fact that we can be wrong. We achieve when we remember our weaknesses and move forward despite them.

Monday, August 13, 2018

I'm Not Looking for Your Gaze

When I was in college, I had a subscription to Vogue. I enjoyed reading the magazine on weekends while eating scones. Then suddenly and without warning my interest went down to zero and I cancelled the subscription.

I began to say that I liked style but had no interest in fashion. I can't even look at most magazines anymore. I don't just not like them; most of them even bother me. I do, however, like the catalogs from Anthropologie. I can't remember who it was, but I saw something recently that called their catalogs a fantasy--this person said that they imagined a faraway, exciting life where everything is perfect and that we like them just because we're trying to imagine ourselves living that false, impossible life. I disagree: I don't travel (at all--and I mind that I don't) (and there are other things that I don't have in common with the images) but I relate to those Anthropologie images more than to any others. That's why I like them, because I see me in them, not because I imagine myself to be someone else when I look at them.

I was looking at an email from Modcloth last week and I realized something. Now, some of their images are similar in style to Anthropologie's. And this email had six pictures in it. Two of the pictures I really liked and two I didn't like much and two I mostly liked. I realized that in the two that I really liked, the models weren't looking at the camera. In the two I didn't like, the models were looking right at the camera. And in the other two pictures, the models were looking mainly at the camera but kind of off center, as if they were just looking in that direction but not quite right at you. And that was it.

I like the images that are about a person and this person's identity, not about being seen.

I don't care about being on trend because I have no personal interest in trends (I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with liking trends if you truly like following them and keeping up to date just for your own interest) and I don't need anyone to see that I'm on trend. In certain contexts, sure, you need to dress to look professional, presentable, authoritative, etc. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about just casual days of existence. And I'm not just talking about clothing.

Often (more often nowadays, honestly) I don't even like the outfits in the Anthropologie catalogues. There are plenty of clothing items that I would never wear. But it isn't about that. It's that dreamy quality, of nature images and wood and stone and books. It's that imagining myself going about my day and my interests. I'm looking at me, not imagining someone else looking at me.

I'm past the point of that direct-in-your-gaze look that says, here I am and this is who I am, what are you going to do about it? I have no rebellion in me. I'm too busy standing and being. I'm not trying to prove who I am to anyone; I'm just being who I am.

I don't care if you don't see me, and I don't care if you don't realize who I am. None of that will change the fact of who I am.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Black Butterfly Selection & Cacao Juice

Kind of a mixed review today. Basically I'm just giving an overview of the things that I discovered last time I was at Black Butterfly in Prescott. The fact is, it's too hot right now to be carting chocolate around (unless you genuinely have a cooler in your car), so I would have needed to photograph and review these chocolates right away in order to do things properly. And, well, that isn't usually convenient.

They were just such a wonderful bundle of chocolates, though, that I hate to give no note of them. While I have no pictures, I will say that while Black Butterfly always has such an exquisite, artistic style, everything in the store that day was even more gorgeous than usual. There were so many new things, too, which is why I couldn't resist getting maybe more than I should have. All of the colors and the paint work was all happy and classy at the same time. Gorgeous, gorgeous.

From the case, I chose a Mint Meltaway and a Turtle. The mint was nice and creamy and light and not very strong on mint flavor, which was probably what made it more pleasing to me. The Turtle was one of those beautiful pieces that would make for a great gift--for someone of any age. Content-wise, it was a little closer to standard than I'd been expecting. The caramel, for instance, while certainly of much better flavor, is more of that standard sticky style. Pecans and chocolate are pecans and chocolate. The trio make for a good mix.

One of the exciting new things in the shop are the Snack Bars. Basically they're upscale, candy bars. Clear boxes with long bars of chocolate painted (again) exquisitely. The concept makes them perfect for either eating right away (by yourself or with your group) or giving as a gift. The whole snack bar/candy bar thing also makes them more approachable for those who might be intimidated by a case of truffles. It took me a while to choose two flavors, but I went with the PB& J and Caramel Macchiato. I was trying to go for one more casual and one less casual.

Possibly, though, I didn't choose the best flavors for me. I always bring this up when I talk about peanut butter chocolates, but I'm a bit of a hippie and I only like peanut butter that is made with just peanut and salt--no oil or anything like that. So that peanut butter taste that most people love . . . is a little too much for me. This chocolate leans more to that style and while the strawberry element is good, it's also a tad on the sweet side. I'm going to go, then, with that awkward statement that I think most people (to whom a PB&J bar sounds good) will enjoy this bar but it's a little too sweet and all for my weird tastes (it isn't as though I don't like sweetness--just not all sweetness).

The Caramel Macchiato had little circles of caramel in it, of the same type that the Turtle had. It also had that coffee flavor that was in itself strong but made up a smaller percentage of the overall taste--like with a flavored coffee beverage like a caramel macchiato. It's dark chocolate, but only of 61% cocoa content, so still a sweeter sort of bar here, as would be expected from a line like this.

So, fun new things to try out.

The other fun thing is a new product Black Butterfly is carrying. Cacao Juice made by Repurposed Pod. Can I stress to you how amazing this product is? I'll try.

First of all, I don't think I've really talked much about how great Tracy Taylor of Black Butterfly is. Not only does she make such beautiful chocolate, but she also is welcoming when you come in to the shop. She offers samples and tells you all about the products and how they're made, etc. Though I'd already had my chocolate sample when I came in, when I mentioned how excited I was about the cacao juice (because of course I was going to buy some no matter what), she got me a sample of that, too. So I had my first sip of cacao juice there in her shop.

It's distinctive, certainly. As you can see, it has an off-white color, with a bit of yellow to it, like cream soda or something like that. It smells fruity, almost lemony. The taste, too, I want to describe as lemony, even though that obviously isn't exactly the flavor. Tracy mentioned that it's similar to lychee--and I thought, oh, yes, that's it. That . . . different yet approachable sort of flavor that has some tang to it but also sweetness. And that's what makes it maybe similar to drinking lemonade, after all: it has both a hint of a zing while also being sweet. And yet this is 100% cacao juice with nothing added to it, no sugar, no water, no nothing. So it's kind of amazing how complex the flavor is--but would we expect anything less from a cacao product?

It feels similar, too, to drinking something like coconut water or aloe vera juice. Something that has a super distinctive flavor that is clear and crisp and clean and also strong yet not strong at the same time.

What is cacao juice exactly, though, you ask? Well, you see, the folks at Repurposed Pod thought hey, cacao pulp is a by-product of the chocolate-making process. How would it be if chocolate farmers could get paid for that, too? With the growing efforts to give farmers a livable wage for their work, it's great to think that we can also be using more of their product. So the cacao juice is made from the pulp of the cacao pods after the beans/seeds are removed to make chocolate. They flash-pasteurize it right there and then high-pressure pasteurize it once it gets to the U.S. Each 8.75 ounce bottle takes six pods to make.

And if you're paying attention to things of that sort, this juice is high in magnesium and B vitamins and antioxidants. Cacao is a fruit so why wouldn't it be healthy?

You can add it to smoothies or make cocktails out of it (Repurposed Pod has a great list of cocktail recipes on their website) or whatever creative things you'd like. Myself, though? I think it tastes amazing as is. Granted, I do drink things like aloe vera juice (the 100% kind, not the weird diluted ones) on a daily basis, so you might want to try it yourself first before you order a case of it. I imagine, though, that even if it's the type of thing some people might find odd-tasting at first, it's also the type that your palate will quickly adjust to.

So I could completely see this product taking off as the next big thing. It tastes amazing and it has great potential for health marketing and sustainable marketing and fair trade marketing and coolness marketing. It's pretty much the best thing ever.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Dozen of Jane

I recently bought a new copy of Jane Eyre. I . . . didn't need a new copy of this book. While it was pretty, it also wasn't my favorite copy of this book I've ever seen. It's just that I can never resist buying all the copies of Jane Eyre.

While, from the standpoint of a literary critic, I will certainly listen to, even in theory agree with, anyone who states that Jane Eyre isn't Charlotte Bronte's best novel or the best novel of the Victorian era or the best of the Bronte Sisters' novels (although it's kind of unfair of us to lump the sisters into one category as if they had no individuality). But the thing is (and I know many people agree with me), Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and maybe even my favorite of all. Jane Eyre is my soul. I reflect back and forth with that book like it's a mirror that I look into or a lesson book written just for me. I started reading it first when I was ten; it was a little too much for me at that age so I picked it up again when I was twelve (I finished it the summer just before I turned thirteen).  Since then, I've read it again every few years. It grows with me and develops with me. It's my soul.

I only ever read the first copy that I bought all those years ago in the children's section at Barnes & Noble; this was the Puffin Classics edition with Jane walking in a billowing purple dress outside of Thornfield. But I also own the Penguin edition, the Barnes & Noble classics hardcover (I'm missing their paperback, am I not?), the Barnes & Noble collectible classics hardcover (they now make this one in a soft cover instead, so I'm glad I bought it when I was still in this nicer version), the pretty Penguin Classics edition that places like Anthropologie loved to sell a couple years ago when they first came out, an old clothbound blue copy that once belonged to a random high school library in Arizona, a dark blue clothbound copy possibly even older than that one, the Knickerbocker Classics edition (which is the one I just bought), the Canterbury Classics edition, Dame Darcy's illustrated edition, the graphic novel version, and the BabyLit version. If you count those last two (which are technically in a different category, that's twelve total.

And I suppose I do also own one of those book journals that uses the sentences of the book (printed in tiny, tiny letters) instead of lines for you to write on. That would make it a baker's dozen.

For a book that's this important to me, I might as well have a little collection going. I mean, it isn't as if there is much book merch out there, even for a book as eternally popular as Jane Eyre. Sure, I have that journal and the t-shirt from Out of Print and especially nowadays with things like Etsy, there are certainly some options out there. But mainly the books are my merch. I can just sit and look at them and consider how they do or don't reflect on the content and tone of the book.

That gray leather-bound is wonderful and Dame Darcy's is pretty cool. But, you know what? I think that perhaps my favorite is still that purple Puffin one. Some of the stylish, trendy copies automatically make this book look all feminine with pink and yellow and flowers and frills because it's a book about a woman written by a woman. And yes, it is certainly a feminine book in many ways. But it's also a dark book--which is why I love it. This purple book captures that duality. Jane is there in her dress but you can also see all the storm clouds around Thornfield and the birds circling the air like a bad omen and the light shining on the trees to represent all the nature elements that are also so prevalent in this book. Yes, this is the cover that made me reach for this book to learn more--all those years ago when I had never heard of Charlotte Bronte or Jane Eyre.

I tell you, it's great when children can grow up already knowing about the classics. But it's also amazing to discover them and fall in love with them entirely on your own. (I mean, I did know about a good many classics [thank you, Wishbone], but Jane Eyre wasn't one of them.)

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Hundred Acre Wood Becomes Narnia

The idea of Christopher Robin sounded much like Hook, right? The adult has outgrown the fantasy of childhood and has to relearn it all in order to reconnect with his children. But if Hook was something that adults in particular could relate to, Christopher Robin is even more so. 

The beginning scenes make for a touching short film in and of themselves. The boy who knows that he's growing up and will soon have other things to replace his childhood play. The boy who becomes the child in grief, the young man who has to handle "so much more than he should." The person who has to go to war and face all of the horrors therein. The man who has to return from the war and approach the new battlefield of the work force to provide for his family. The person who is so tired out from all of this that he can't even take a free moment to remember what joy and happiness are; he's just so busy trying to handle responsibility. 

What makes all of this so touching is that step by step montage. With something like Hook, you have the parent who values their career as if it matters more than their family. You see it often in film (Jungle 2 Jungle is coming to mind, too, for some reason--ah, 90's films). Then they get the reminder that they need to remember that it's their family that should come first. But with Christopher Robin, you know that this character does love and care for his family--it's that love and care that let him come back half sane from the blackness of war and that drives him to spend so much time on work so that he can make things better for his wife and daughter. It's so touching because we've all seen it in real life. People who work full time don't have much time to spend at home--and yet you have to work full time or even overtime to provide for a family. So the film isn't saying that Christopher was in the wrong and needed to learn a lesson; it's saying that life is hard. 

As far as the fantasy world goes, basically this film made the Hundred Acre Wood into Narnia. It's a little different from what you get when you are simply looking at stories of Christopher as a boy. There, this fantasy place is his created world, in a way his practice place for the real world; it is inevitably, by its very nature, the place of childhood that he will leave when he reaches adulthood. Narnia, on the other hand, is the place that you continue to believe in even when you grow up, even if you no longer visit it as an adult. Narnia fans will remember that Peter, Edmund, and Lucy would get together with Professor Kirke, Polly, Eustace, and Jill to talk about Narnia--but Susan, once she grew up, no longer believed in Narnia and considered it simply an old childhood game, nothing of importance. So that's kind of the same thing that this film did with Christopher Robin's Hundred Acre Wood. 

This wood became a place that it was important to still remember and stay in touch with. Robin doesn't just stop visiting Pooh and Piglet and the rest; he also puts away his drawings of them and discourages his daughter from looking at the pictures, instead of telling her about the fun games he used to play as a boy and letting the games live on with her. Because life took away his spark of fun, he isn't feeding that spark to his daughter. 

The Hundred Acre Wood shifted from being a representation of childhood to being the element of play, the element of fun that needs to remain part of life even when you have to add necessary things like responsibility to it. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Theo: Kids' Crunch Banana Milk Chocolate

Apparently Theo doesn't want me to eat this chocolate of theirs: they have labeled this line Kids' Crunch. The flavor I have (against, perhaps, the will of Theo) is the Banana Milk Chocolate. I love for brands like Theo to come out with casual and/or candy chocolate like this--I just don't know that it had to be labeled as for kids in order for that tone to come across.

Sure, though, the name instantly tells you that it's candy and that it's something you can put in your kids' lunch boxes and that it's not just a sweet treat but also an alternative to other products like Hostess Cupcakes or, more specifically, Nestle Crunch bars. You'll notice the "whole grain" bit in the name, too, that tries to say, hey, this is "healthy," too. And like with the Peanut Butter Cup from Unreal, there is puffed quinoa in here in addition to the puffed brown rice. I still don't see the point; I still see this simply as a way to look trendy (which probably works, so much as I might roll my eyes at it it's probably a smart move).

The packaging doesn't really have much of a kids' specific design style, except for the voracious letter "C." The bar itself is very plain, smooth on one side with the crisped rice visible on the other side. It's almost too basic of a look, except that that's kind of the idea. The aroma? Darker milk chocolate, since this is Theo's 45% milk chocolate, which is definitely darker than the average milk chocolate, especially in terms of candy (I see nothing wrong with the syntax of that sentence).

Start nibbling in and you'll get the crisped rice and the banana and the chocolate. Pretty straightforward. The crisped rice and quinoa add the same familiar texture of a Crunch bar.  The bananas are freeze-dried (as opposed to the banana chips in the Black Butterfly toffee), so they do taste like banana. Banana isn't, after all, one of those flavors that you can fake. I always remark on the rarity of banana in chocolate products, but it does seem like it's showing up more often now than it did a few years ago. That must be to please me, right?

I wonder (and kind of hate to wonder) if the 45% milk chocolate might be a little too dark for a bar labeled as being for kids. You never want to put too much past the palates of the young ones, but they do tend to prefer sweeter things. Still, though, this chocolate should be sweet enough--and anyway, I know I won't be the only one to ignore the label. Adults want chocolate candy, too, you know, and many of us will be glad for a more substantial milk chocolate.

The more I ponder the name, the more I imagine that it was just the way they were able to use "Crunch" while not making this sound like a Crunch bar. "Kids' Crunch" makes it sound almost more like a granola bar, while a name like "Chocolate Crunch" would have sounded most definitely like an alternative to a Crunch bar. (Though would that really be such a bad thing? Newman-O's and Trader Joe's O's are all blatant alternatives to Oreos.)

The short of it: I like this product but I don't like that its label says it isn't meant for me.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Unreal: Dark Chocolate Crispy Peanut Butter Cup

Time to give some attention to chocolate candy, starting with an alternative to Reese's Cups. There are plenty of Reese's alternatives these days, most commonly from Theo and Justin's. But I'd never had Unreal's version before.

These also come in bags, though the one I got is just one tiny peanut butter cup in a sole wrapper. And yes, sole wrapper means that, like most of the Reese's alternatives, there is no cupcake style sleeve; it's just the one outside wrapper. While I do like the green color, green means that these are the Crispy ones, which I didn't realize when I bought them. The red are plain dark chocolate and the green are with almond butter instead of peanut butter. Unreal also makes alternative M&M's; those come in milk chocolate as well as dark but the cups only come in dark chocolate.

I did call this peanut butter cup tiny: it's definitely smaller than the standard size. Candy can come in small because candy is cute, so I have no problem with that. The aroma is of dark chocolate. Here I'll note that as part of the "alternate" traits like no artificial ingredients and the use of sustainable and organic ingredients, this chocolate is also fair trade. To me, when it comes to chocolate, that's becoming more important than the rest (usually you don't get fair trade without the rest, but still I feel like, if anything, that should be the priority). I've said it before: of course I want couture fair trade chocolate but I also want there to be casual fair trade chocolate, including fair trade chocolate candy.

The chocolate is sweetened with both sugar and agave nectar, I suppose in an effort to make it "healthier." I wonder if the agave is what makes me lean toward feeling like this chocolate is slightly oily (I kept checking the ingredients to see if some of the palm oil might be in the chocolate instead of just in the peanut butter). I can't say for certain, though, if this is the case or if I'm just making it up. And even if it is, the fact that this is candy means that, well, a tad more of an oily texture is fine.

The chocolate tastes nice, after all, even when I try and nibble some of it on its own from the edges. It isn't that sweet dark chocolate that I hate coming across in the confection territory. It has flavor to it but also is neither bitter nor strongly sweet. The perfect dark chocolate for a candy product.

The peanut butter is the kind you'd expect from an alternate version. I've had this kind before but I don't know when. (I should have just gathered up all of the Reese's alternatives and done a mass review, shouldn't've I?) It's less greasy and more almost crumbly than the peanut butter in a Reese's cup, almost more like Mazapan (the Mexican peanut candy). The salt element (Reese's cups have made a salt element necessary) tastes more like salted chocolate than salty peanut butter.

And the crispy element? Like I said, I didn't even realize when I bought this that there was a crispy element. Instead of using crisped rice, this is crisped quinoa (why make that change I don't know, except to make it sound like part of a health trend). The crisp works as far as crisp goes; the effect is the same. But I have no interest in crispy peanut butter cups; the crisped crisps were just an element I tried to ignore. So if the idea doesn't sound appealing to you, either, I'd recommend just sticking to the non-crispy version.

On the whole, a decent alternative to the famous one. Maybe not my absolute favorite of all of the ones I've tried, but definitely I'd place this one on the successful side (and that can't be said about all of them).

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What's Your Bookstore?

I never felt caught up in the whole "shop indie bookstores thing." I mean, I'm all for local, but I'm also for, well, local that makes sense. For instance, local clothing stores that sell cheap, fast fashion clothing don't make sense to me; I'd rather shop at a chain store and get good quality clothing that'll last me for years. This is a completely irrelevant analogy for bookstores; basically I'm just trying to say that I don't want to say something. I want to do something. I don't want to say, oh, yes, everyone, support your local bookstore when I know I'm just going to buy majority of my books from Barnes & Noble.

I've always liked Barnes & Noble. Back when it was Borders and Barnes & Noble, I preferred the latter because of the earthier, more Old World design versus the modern look of the former. Barnes & Noble has a wide selection, not quite every book on earth, sure, but as many as they can fit on their shelves. They always give good service, too, whether it's just in ringing me up or in helping me find something. If there's a book I want to buy on the day it comes out, I know they'll have it on the day it comes out.

Now people are starting to say, it doesn't matter if it's local or a chain, just support bookstores in general. Isn't that what I was saying all along?

Sure, indie bookstores are great; I'm not debating that. Changing Hands is the famous one in the Phoenix area. But I don't live super close to either of their locations, so quite frankly Barnes & Noble is more convenient for me to go to on a regular basis. Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff is cool, too. Places like this you might be able to get more local-centered titles, or even great non-book items like shirts and other merch from Out of Print. Cards and notebooks, too.

But I tend to go to indie bookstores more like I go to cute stores like The Hummingbird House in Sedona (which sells decor, perfume, jewelry, a few antiques, etc.) I go to some used book places, too, sometimes. And I buy a decent amount of books at museums and places like that. I go to Barnes & Noble, as I mentioned, for the bulk of my books, though. New books, like Star Wars books. Classics that I've decided I finally want to read. Books that I discover just from browsing. And chain or no chain, I like shopping there. Because bookstores are great.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Lifeline

When life hands you a lifeline, take it.

Sometimes it's unexpected. Sometimes it's just what you need, even if it sounds odd.

It doesn't have to be big; it doesn't have to be small. It doesn't have to make your life easier or fit in to your plans.

Here is an irrelevant picture of some birds (unless you'd like me to assign it symbolic significance, which I certainly could).

It's just that sometimes, sometimes we're starting to fall--and then something gives us a hand to lift us back up. You can act like the hand is just pushing you further down or you can take the hand and start to stand again.

Today I needed to get called in to work on my day off. I could have been grumpy about not being able to do all the things I needed to do at home, but instead I was glad because I knew I needed it, whether just so that I could feel needed or so that I could be around my team.

Or how about this. Anyone who works or has worked with the public knows that on some days, you're receiving, well, a lot of negativity from people. And it's on days like that that someone will just randomly say something extra nice to you or even just act extra nice. Just someone acting like a positive and considerate person ends up being a lifeline, a jolt of air to help you breathe.

There are things we can do to combat whatever it is in ourselves that we know that we need to combat. But sometimes what we really need is something from the outside to come and help--and come it does.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hanging with the Historical

For close to a year now, I've been hanging out at a historical house one to four times per month. I give three 50-55 minute tours in three hours to groups of one to sixteen people, some local but mostly out-of-state visitors. That means that I am representative of Phoenix, of Arizona, of the Southwest, of the U.S., of the Victorian era, of historic homes, and of museums. No pressure, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, there was a girl maybe about nine years old who had just really enjoyed seeing the house. A few months ago, we had a lot of college students because there was a class that required them to visit. I remember one of them in particular who'd had that look of genuine, kind of unexpected interest at many of the things I talked about or pointed out (like the stereoscope). Sure, it's great to talk to people who already love historic homes, but to see that first spark of interest is quite a gift.

I've alluded before to the fact that I'm repeating myself over and over on these tours. It's come to the point where I have my basic spiel and most of it I will give on every single tour. So I've said the exact same sentences many times--each time, though, I say them like I'm saying them for the first time because I know that this group in front of me is hearing them for the first time. And as I try to keep that in mind, that also brings me back around to considering my audience.

When there are at least a couple of children ten years old or younger, I tend to not bring up too many years. To say that the original owner was born in 1851 is pretty irrelevant to them since most children don't really have a concept of 1851 versus 1891 or 1811, anyway. I'll try and also bring in more comparisons to the modern day when there are children on a tour, just to give them a connection. And I don't tell the prohibition story when there are children.

We all kind of have our special angles and focuses and areas of interest when we give tours in this place; they do want us all to have different tours rather than for all of us to just be parroting the same spiel. Architecture is not my special angle. But when I notice that someone is interested in architecture, maybe I'll bring up some extra tidbits that I don't usually talk about. Maybe I'll talk a little more about wood that was painted over or which fireplaces are reproductions, things like that.

We like to encourage questions, but a lot of questions have a two-sided effect on a tour. They keep things fun, but they also take up time. Sometimes someone will ask a question that I was about to answer with my spiel (or maybe that I normally talk about at a later point). Rather than saying, "I'll get to that later," I answer their question with all of this info as if their question launched this great conversation that wouldn't otherwise have happened. That encourages them to ask more questions and keeps them engaged. If, however, I am getting lots of questions about things that I don't normally talk about, well, the tour might start running long. I always have about a five minute or so cushion of time that I can go over (if I aim for 50 minutes, then I can go up to 55 minutes and still have time to start the next tour on the hour). If that's the case, I might have to start cutting. Maybe I'll cut out a little story here or there or maybe I'll just bundle up a few sentences into quicker comments.

It's great practice for talking, to be able to treat your spiel as a fluid thing. You're thinking ahead while still keeping an eye on what you're saying (can't let your mind wander too much or you might start saying the wrong sentence at the wrong moment).

And it's amazing to see that you are the one shaping someone's impression of a place. Someone who only had a spare hour while attending a work conference in Downtown Phoenix chose to spend that spare hour here. A couple visiting from England put down this spot on their list of places to visit. A woman who brought her out-of-town relatives here. Etc., etc. Other than the fact that I love that house and I love the Victorian era, it's amazing to see how places like this can bring people together to one space.