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.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Chocolate Organico: Ibiza Salt Dark Chocolate

And now we have the last piece in the trio from Chocolate Organico. We're making the jump here from milk chocolate to dark chocolate, though just to an average cocoa content of 70%. Another lightly flavored chocolate here, this time flavored with salt from Ibiza, which is an island off of the coast of Spain. So the packaging is blue like the sea.

Unwrapping the chocolate, you can see some salt on the back of the bar but the front is clear. The surface is a standard color and the aroma comes in with some definite bitterness, more than I'd expected for a 70%. At first, the flavor, too, is on the darker side for 70%; it's lightly bitter with something of a dusty flavor (not texture). A little of the floral flavor notes, too, perhaps. The bitterness, though, is the kind that fades by the second bite. Turns out that the chocolate isn't so much to handle as at first I'd thought it might be--as far as darkness goes.

The salt seems only to be present in those places that are visible from the back, so this is one of the lighter salted chocolates. I tend to prefer a tad more salt--not super salty, just a little more than this. When I do taste the salt, it's good salt, strong and clear. It goes well with the depth of the chocolate; when I get one of the bigger pieces of salt or a corner that has a higher concentration of it, the balance is just right between the two. There are, however, some bites that barely have any salt at all. Maybe since this is such a small bar and most people are going to finish it in a smaller number of bites that I am, all of this is less of an issue. I would appreciate just a touch more salt, though, and spread around just a bit more.

Easily I preferred both milk chocolate bars to this one; I just found it a little less balanced and a little less inviting. But that isn't to say that this one wasn't any good. When it came with the right balance, the salt brought just the right zing to the simple darkness of the chocolate.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Chocolate Organico: Masala Milk Chocolate

Continuing with the trio from Chocolate Organico, today we have the Masala Milk Chocolate. The red color this time means boldness and spices; the quick description in the back lists cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla. Interesting that vanilla is listed there, even though vanilla is a usual element of milk chocolate. I had been expecting more spices than just cinnamon and cardamom, something more like the strong blends I've come across in chai milk chocolates.

And there isn't any aroma of spices to the chocolate, either. Even though we still have 36% cocoa content milk chocolate here (which is presumably the same base as they used for the Honey Milk Chocolate last time), this time I'm getting a strong Hershey's scent that I didn't get before (and that I still don't when I go back to the Honey bar). Weird and not encouraging.

However, one must continue on. And even though scent is one of the first steps in tasting chocolate, it isn't always a direct indicator of how the chocolate will taste. It takes half a beat, but you then get solid cinnamon flavor with the chocolate. I don't know about the rest of you, but cinnamon and chocolate, to me, are buddies just as much as hazelnut and chocolate are. So this is already a winning combination. It may be that I am not advanced enough to taste the cardamom or maybe it does blend with the cinnamon, but I can't specifically identify cardamom. I would imagine, though, that it's what helps give the cinnamon strength and edge. It tastes great, with a nice and fresh cinnamon flavor. It's like hot chocolate in a chocolate bar.

The chocolate seems to taste similar to before, sweet and creamy. But with the addition of cinnamon (which is strong enough to be in the foreground but not so strong that it becomes spicy), this chocolate becomes my favorite thing in the world in the moment when I am eating it. Again, I had been expecting more of a complicated mix of spices, but this is pretty simple--and I find that I love it exactly for its simplicity. Simply delicious, provided of course you like milk chocolate and cinnamon.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Chocolate Organico: Honey Milk Chocolate

This week I'll be doing something a little different. I have three of these cute little bars from Chocolate Organico, so I'm just going to give three quick and consecutive reviews of each one rather than either stuffing them into one review or drawing them out into three weeks.

Small things are always cute and, like I've mentioned before, I think we could use more chocolate in smaller sizes like this. That is, usually when I think of a small chocolate bar, I think of 40 to 50 grams, but these are 20 grams--tiny, tiny. Irresistibly tiny. And they're from Spain, which is definitely less common to come across. Probably I've only had chocolate from maybe two companies in Spain during my ten years of reviewing chocolate (I just realized that this summer officially makes it ten years--why didn't I have a celebration?). The chocolate is labeled as handmade, which I take to mean it's probably made in small batches. It's also, if you hadn't caught on already, organic. Chocolate Organico simply means organic chocolate; who says you need to get creative about what you name a company?

Our first of the three bars is the Miel Chocolate con Leche, or Honey Milk Chocolate. Now, you will want to note that this isn't chocolate sweetened with honey: there is still sugar in here. Honey is just acting as an additional flavor rather than as the sweetener.

Even though the bar is so small that its box doesn't necessarily need a fancy way to open and close, the card box still comes with a cute fold out style (I will continue to use the word cute to describe this chocolate because small things are always cute). And there is also plenty of design to the bar itself even though it is so small; the tilted angle of the squares gives a fun and slightly quirky style.

The chocolate's aroma is the usual sort of creamy, cocoa butter kind that comes with milk chocolate. The mouthfeel, though, is nice and cool, so not quite as melty and greasy as some. Flavor-wise, there are some nutty notes to the chocolate, along of course with the usual touch of vanilla. I want to say that I don't taste the honey but then I seem to imagine it coaxing its way in, especially towards the second half; it brings in perhaps a hint of richness with that golden sweetness that honey has. In the aftertaste, too, I think I sense the honey.

So definitely nothing like the honey chocolate from Untamed Confections, where honey is the sole sweetener and a major player in the chocolate. Yet still a pleasant chocolate. Definitely this is a light milk chocolate (which is, I suppose, the usual thing), more leaning on creaminess and sweetness and all. The perfect thing for a casual summer afternoon.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Chocolate and Love: Panama 80%

Time for the second bar from Chocolate and Love. This time it's a plain chocolate that's also at a higher cocoa content--80% to be exact. And while the other bar's cocoa was sourced in Peru and the Dominican Republic, this one is sourced from Panama.

There is a sweet scent to this chocolate, which didn't surprise me given my comments last time. However, the chocolate did develop flavor in a slightly different way from what I'd been expecting.

The mouthfeel is smooth with that velvety, chocolate mousse/dessert kind of flavor. That then develops a little darker; at this point, it could edge towards bitter if you're more of a milk chocolate person. Otherwise, it feels more like a candy dark chocolate--that is, a specific kind of dark chocolate that isn't "dark" in the sense of, well, non-candy bar chocolates. You quickly settle back in with that dessert richness, nice and dense while still smooth in flavor and mixed with sweetness. So, yes, like a chocolate mousse.

As you know, I'm not always a fan of sweet dark chocolate. This one, however, hits just the right level; if you're going to do a sweet dark chocolate, then this is the way to do it. I've had plenty of darker chocolate, but 80% is definitely up there. So the fact that Chocolate and Love has put together a sweet dark chocolate at this high of a cocoa content is interesting. It must be the higher content that keeps this chocolate feeling grounded enough to steer away from that candy bar dark chocolate zone. I'm enjoying this bar more than I did the one from last week; it's dessert-like quality makes it satisfying. And I would definitely recommend it as an upgrade if you are used to dark chocolate more of the candy bar variety (looking at you, Hershey's) or if you usually dwell more around milk chocolate. It makes for a good transition chocolate.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Fourth . . . or the Fifth

A happy Fourth of July yesterday for everyone?

As usual, I dressed in my red, white, and blue and flags and such and wandered around. This time I found some parrots and this little green guy, who loved my necklaces. 

Thought for the day: the time is now. And I don't mean that as in YOLO or go for the extreme or any of that. I mean that your current actions, in this moment, affect who you are and affect the world around you. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, the way that you go about what you're doing does matter and does make a difference and does have repercussions, for positive or negative. Let's try and remember that. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Solo Is Most Wanted

Hmm. Once again, I'm praising a Solo book over Solo the film. I mean, I liked Last Shot possibly more than the movie and I definitely like Rae Carson's Most Wanted more than either the movie or the other book. In fact, I feel like this story might even have gone better as the topic for the movie than the actual movie's plot.

When I talked about Solo, I mentioned appreciating that quick view of Corellia that we got, that little glimpse that let us see people living under the Empire and under everything that happened under the Empire. Specifically, too, young people growing up under those conditions. Most Wanted takes place at a sort of undefined amount of time before the movie--before Han and Qi'ra became friends.

So we're seeing these two characters as barely more than children, just two young people trying to make it in the world by being part of this gang just to have barely enough to life off of. And in seeing characters in their worst setting, you see the best of their characters. You see Han's ingenuity and quick-thinking and you see Qi'ra's steadiness and bright mind. I didn't like Qi'ra in the movie, but I liked her in this book. In the movie, we mainly see her as essentially a kept woman, someone who's given up her freedom in order to have a position; that's sad but also not exactly the type of character I'm interested in watching. In here, you see her before all that. You see her as a person tired of living in dirt all her life, a person obviously capable of so much more but incapable of getting there; it's easier to be happy about her successes in this setting.

And, well, this story kind of makes more sense than the movie did. The movie had all of these random, forced moments. This story mainly just flows, while still addressing certain things--like giving a reason for Han to avoid "causes." Or maybe I just liked this book because the characters did lots of walking (and running) and there were lots of descriptions of places and of food (or the lack of it). Nice and straightforward and real world.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Chocolate and Love: Sea Salt & Caramel 55%

There were two more chocolates that I came away with from the gift shop at the Phoenix Zoo; both are from Chocolate and Love. This is a Swiss company and the chocolate is both organic and fair trade. I'm not used to seeing so much fair trade chocolate in a gift shop, so that was why I got so excited to get a few of them. Their gift shop, though, does have a generally pretty good selection of items--I even remember that from when I visited before years ago. This colorful wrapper with a pattern of vines and leaves fit right in.

The wrapper is the kind that folds out to have more info about the company and its practices on the inside; this is always a nice way to keep the mess off of the visible packaging but still give the consumer information. (The chocolate, by the way, is sourced from Peru and The Dominican Republic.) I don't, however, favor the white wrappers, just because they don't make resealing as easy (if, of course, you're going to eat all of the chocolate at once, then this is irrelevant). The squares are in a simple style, decorated just with a series of lines going across.

Given that the cocoa content is 55%, it follows that the aroma is of sweet dark chocolate, like semisweet chocolate chips. And on beginning in, I discovered that once more we have the crunchy caramel. I just don't get why everyone is calling this caramel instead of just going for toffee; does the word caramel sound more appealing to consumers than toffee? Possibly: it sounds more like modern candy than old-fashioned sweets, I guess.

Now, one of the bits of info that's on the inside of the wrapper instructs you to let the chocolate melt rather than chewing it. Sure, of course you generally want to do that for dark chocolate--but especially for plain chocolate. If you do that here, you'll only taste the chocolate and then be left with all the crunchy caramel at the end to taste all on its own. So you do have to crunch. After all, this caramel seems almost harder than toffee.

While the salt is added in a generous amount (I've had stronger, but this definitely isn't on the light side), the effect is more like salted chocolate than salted caramel. The chocolate is close to what I describe as that Nesquik flavor. It's sweet, which makes it more of a confection than just dark chocolate. But, you know, I guess it makes sense for this chocolate to be on the sweet side given that the Swiss are known for milk chocolate. And for such a hard caramel as this one, you need a heavier carrier than milk chocolate--so this type of sweet chocolate allows you to keep the sweetness while still having the strength to carry the caramel.

It isn't bad. It's mainly a nice crunchy caramel chocolate. It's just that the caramel is so hard that sometimes it reminds me of eating rocks. Granted, it doesn't get stuck in your teeth the way that toffee does, so that's a benefit. It still hasn't won me over to the whole crunchy caramel concept; however, this bar does make for a nice crunching confection type of chocolate and I suppose that's enough.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Writing Progress

It's an exciting thing to print out a draft for the first time.

I didn't think I was at that stage yet; I thought I was going to write up more first. Then I just felt like I needed to print it all out to be able to do more. After all, I do have a beginning, some early stages, a tiny bit of the middle, and an ending (maybe not the end end but some of the end). Time to take a step back and see what I have in order to be able to see what I need.

Having printed out said manuscript, I read through it all yesterday. Some of this I wrote months and months ago and have barely looked at since. So it's a strange sensation to suddenly see it physical--and to see that it does work toward a whole. Sometimes I've felt like I've really been letting this latest book drag. But there are pieces of it that I could only have written at certain specific times. When I was writing the beginning, for instance, I only knew the beginning; I knew nothing of the rest. Later, I started to get the pieces that I was missing.

In fact, I was missing so much that I expected, when I read through it all, to find a definite tone shift halfway through. I was expecting to find incongruence that I'd need to fix. Surprisingly, though, I didn't find much of that. Instead I just find gaps that I need to fill in more (which I already knew I'd need given that this is a complete-but-not-complete draft). I did write one scene twice--and it's quite different each time. I mean, I wrote the same scene for Black Tree two or maybe even three times because I thought I hadn't written it yet (and then I ended up not even using it; it might actually work better in this new book, though, strange enough). That scene was mostly the same each time that I wrote it. Not the case for this current one. One version is definitely better as far as theme and character go, but I do love the setting of the other version--so I might have to just keep the setting and figure out what scene is supposed to go with that setting.

And I realize that I'm missing a scene that I remember writing. I write in a couple of different notebooks (one is more for when I'm free writing, but that often turns into content that I can use) and occasionally on loose paper (I type it all up later), but I can't find that scene anywhere. So a little bit of organization is necessary, I suppose.

Anyway. It's been a while since I did a sale for Black Tree. So let's call it an Independence Day sale for 40% off paperback and hardcover copies at this link.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Giving Back in Return

When Lacey Sturm wrote her first book, The Reason, I realized that one of the reasons I had connected with and enjoyed Flyleaf's music so much was Lacey's writing. And she also has an incredible testimony, so getting to hear that story in detail was a gift. Her second book, The Mystery, I found even more applicable to me on a personal level--at least, in the sense of pondering some things in the present and some things before they happen so as to be prepared for when you do come into certain situations. And, you know, God has a way of bringing us exactly the things we need at exactly the right time. Lacey's third book, The Return: Reflections on Loving God Back, was kind of like that.

It was also interesting (as I thought it might be, which is why I chose to read these books in this order rather than vice versa) to come into this book straight after reading Ashley Eckstein's book, It's Your Universe. To me, that book was kind of like the bare bones, straightforward, think on good and do good, live well and be well type of message; then this one came in with more detail and explained the why behind it all.

I've mentioned in some other posts that I have been discovering, like I never knew before, what worship means and what prayer means--and craving them both. I think that if I hadn't been in this stage of realizing all this in a different way than before, then maybe I wouldn't have been able to take in Lacey's words in the same way (or maybe then they just would have introduced me to what I was missing, who knows). As it was, so many time I would read what she said and think, yes, I know exactly what you mean. Or, oh, you're right, I need more of that or to remind myself of that.

Rather than being in typical narrative form, this book is a little different. There are chapters and part of the chapters are regular text. Part of them, though, are journal pieces from the past twenty years. The journals have Bible verses listed (the verses themselves aren't there, so at least sometimes you'll find yourself reaching out to look them up and read them as you go through), prayers, lists of kind things to do, song lyrics, and recipes. So you're truly going through and seeing Lacey's journey from being a young Christian to the Flyleaf days to having her family to the solo music days and up to the present.

She brings up some topics, like music and fame and family and temptation and depression and health and work and rest and worship. But the most significant thing about it all is never a specific topic: it's obedience to God--and obedience stemming from genuine love and true desire to serve God. Freedom, not bondage. So it's never about do this or do that. It's all about listening to God and reaching out to him constantly and in all things.

When I walk from my car to work, I look at the mountains and I look up at the sky and I feel myself here on earth reaching up toward heaven and I ask to be God's light to whoever it is that I come into contact with. This book feeds that perspective. That perspective of where am I today and right now and what should I be doing today and right now for God? There is a person; let me smile at them. There is something dirty; let me clean it. There is a task; let me attend to it. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

There are plenty of great lines in this book, great ways of putting concepts. But I'll let you read all that for yourself. The main message is to listen and to reach. Never forget the beauty of creation, of which we are all part, and the glory of its Creator, from whom all good things come.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Nirvana: 72% Dark Chocolate with Toffee and Sesame Seeds

Time to start giving spotlight to some chocolates that I found at the gift shop at the Phoenix Zoo when I was there for their Dinosaurs exhibit. Who knew they had such interesting options there?

Nirvana Belgian Chocolates has this organic, fair trade bar that caught my interest with its unique use of ingredients. It's a 72% Dark Chocolate with Toffee and Sesame Seeds. Toffee I like, but sesame seeds? A little weird, right? I've had M&M-style chocolate sunflower seeds before and those were alright, I guess. But I've never come across sesame seeds in chocolate before. Especially, perhaps, for bringing a unique ingredient in, the packaging on this bar veers on the basic side. Plain is fine, but this almost looks like it's trying too hard to look hipster or something. Still, all qualities considered, I had to at least try it.

The inside wasn't too promising, apart of course from the inevitable bloom (which is all the fault of our lovely Arizona warmth and not of Nirvana). It's a plain design--which is fine but not exciting and more than that, I was picking up a basic, low-level dark chocolate aroma that made me imagine that I would not care for this chocolate.

Give things a chance, though. Give the chocolate a little crunch.

Now, I couldn't at first tell the distinction between the crunch of the toffee and the crunch of the sesame seeds. I wasn't even sure that I could taste either one, except that the sesame seeds did, texture-wise, become more noticeable as seeds once the chocolate was mostly done melting. And sesame seeds aren't hugely flavor, anyway, especially in comparison to the flavor strength of something like chocolate.

The chocolate tastes different from what I'd expected going off of the aroma. It has a slight bitter twinge to it, not big but still noticeable at first. So that means that it isn't as, well, tasteless as I'd been expecting. The bitter twinge gives it some flavor--and it also isn't as sweet as I'd been expecting. Sweet chocolate is fine, but sweet dark chocolate is weird. This chocolate does have some of what I call that thick flavor that chocolate labeled as Belgian tends to have (that flavor that I tend to dislike), but not too much. Only a bit.

The toffee and sesame I'm still not sure if I get entirely. Were they trying to use less "unhealthy" toffee by sneaking in sesame seeds as half of the candy element? Thing is, though, not only was I not at first tasting the sesame seeds, I also wasn't really tasting much toffee, nor getting much of its specific toffee crunch (probably that part because the toffee pieces seem to be just as small as the sesame seeds). I mean, the whole effect of the crunch is a little different from what you generally come across, so little changes like that can be worth it on their own.

The thing is, though, the more I kept eating, the more that the slight bitter twinge in the chocolate disappeared (as usually happens with chocolate) and the more I become in touch with the toffee and sesame. The chocolate becomes like a fudge wrapper to enjoy them in, and I begin to taste the butteriness of the toffee and feel the contrast between the toffee and the sesame seeds. So, in fact, the set does work--not as an eat-one-piece type but as a snacking type where you eat at least a few pieces at a time. The more the better with this one. That's why it crunches, after all. Crunch, crunch, crunch, keep going, have more, crunch, crunch. And, you know, it's nice to also get that more kind of casual effect with dark chocolate.

So it all took a little bit of easing in, but this was an interesting exploration.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thoughts on Jane

"My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world; almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol." - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This is one of those quotes that lingers on to me. It makes evident that the problem with Jane and Rochester's relationship at first was not just Bertha: Bertha is the physical manifestation of the problem rather than simply another character, another person. Their relationship only became equal and based on the right foundation after their separation.

Reading Lacey Sturm's latest book started putting this quote back in my head--as did typing up some scenes for the book I'm working on right now.

I don't know how I can claim to know anything more about love than anyone else does, but love is one of those things that people talk about so often in seemingly the wrong context. That is, they use the word when they're not really referring to love at all.

This was something that I appreciated about Ashley Eckstein's book, too: in talking a bit about how she met her husband, she talked about love as being something that you work at. Love is giving, not sensation.

Sure, when you love someone, they start to fill your thoughts. But the thing is, you can't put so much pressure on a person that they become the most important thing in your life. Jane put all her thoughts on Rochester, tried to let him be her redemption. She put the world and the material above the eternal. If she tried to look at Rochester in this way, he was bound to fail her. And she was bound to fail him.

People don't save you and you can't save people. That comes from elsewhere--and realizing that also helps us realize that we are all part of that creation of which Jane speaks--and then that helps you to see the intense value in every person.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dreaming Your Universe

Ashley Eckstein, voice of Ahsoka Tano and founder of Her Universe, the company that started all of the great Star Wars, Doctor Who, Marvel, etc. clothing for women. Now she has a book out about her journey towards achievement. As you can tell from the title, though, It's Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make It Happen isn't exactly an autobiography. Ashley is writing directly to her audience and letting them know how they, too, can make their dreams reality.

It's a YA book, so it's short and succinct and styled in that casual way that reminds me of a magazine. There are sections of blank lines scattered throughout where Ashley encourages her reader to make lists or otherwise write things down that will help with planning out a dream. Lots of pictures, too. A few of Ashley, maybe at different stages in her life that she's talking about--like her early trips to Disney World or the first time she put on a Her Universe fashion show at SDCC. Plenty of the images are illustrations with Disney imagery.

The style of the book ties in Disney stories with life lessons. And sure, much of this content is, well, nothing that you'd call new exactly. It's all great advice that I've mainly heard before. However, it remains wonderful advice to have collected here and put out in such a straightforward and honest way. Sometimes just because you know that, oh, you have to work hard and not give up and come up with multiple plans to achieve something, etc. doesn't mean that you don't need a reminder of all that. Sometimes you need to hear again that even though you feel like you just lost a big opportunity, the reason you lost that opportunity might be because there is an even better one coming up.

And also this book was a reminder that just because I know certain things doesn't mean that everyone else does, too. Especially here is where it helps that, even though any age can read this book, the target audience is mainly pre-teen and teen girls. Reading this was a reminder that there are still people figuring things out, making realizations about the world and about themselves and their place in the world, people still trying to plan out what their contribution will be. It's a reminder that for every good thing you figure out for yourself, you need to share that with other people, too. If you've achieved something, help other people achieve something, too (which doesn't just mean achieving a dream like starting a company or something; it can simply be achieving contentment in life or the ability to smile daily). And that's exactly what Ashley does with this book.

I knew only a little bit about Ashley's story and though she doesn't go into great detail here (probably partly because it's all recent history and partly because she doesn't want the focus to just be about her), there were still plenty of interesting stories to hear, from her early acting work to her job at Disney World as a teenager to the casting call that led to Ahsoka. In hearing her talk about starting up Her Universe, I realized that I had kind of forgotten just how much Her Universe changed things. It was years ago now that I found that Darth Vader dress from them that I just thought was the most awesome thing--and now dresses like that are so common that I've almost forgotten what it was like before they existed. The shirts and the accessories, too. So much variety. It's funny: if you watch Fresh Baked shopping at Disneyland, David sometimes talks about how there is such better Star Wars clothing for women than for men. Ashley started that. And in this book, she mentions one of the statistics she found when she was researching starting Her Universe; it has to do with the greater percentage of sales being from women than from men. So . . . even though of course there should be great merch for men, too, well, it does make sense that nowadays there is so much more for women--because we definitely buy it.

And this all made me think about not just clothing. Ashley talks about these stories of girls who had been bullied, etc. for liking things like Star Wars. So much has changed in the last few years, hasn't it? Part of it has been because of Disney acquiring Star Wars--but the thing is, Ashley was stirring things up at right about that time. You had the character of Ahsoka introduced just before that and you had Ashley realizing that she could use her influence as Ahsoka to make some changes. And then we started getting all these things like those Forces of Destiny toys that are just like Barbies (a "girl toy") except that they're characters like Leia and Rey (they're so wonderful and exciting that I just had to get the Endor Leia one). It's cool and what I mean to say also is that it's amazing how one piece of influence can keep on having an effect.

Dream it and do it kind of also means that every action you take has power. You have power for passivity or power for influence. We all have a role to play and all of these roles work together in one great web that connects everyone, person to person.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Black Butterfly: Banana Toffee Crunch & Bonbons

Last time I was in Prescott, I made my stop at Black Butterfly to see what I could see. I thought that I was in Prescott often, but the infrequency with which I now seem to go to Black Butterfly would make things appear otherwise. And did you know that the shop has just had its one year anniversary this week? How time flies.

I picked out two flowers from the case, the Champagne & Roses and the Violet Creme. Sometimes I don't pay as much attention to the medallions because I look to the truffles first, but in truth these are wonderful, as well, so I thought I should give them a bit of attention this time. This little disc of chocolate came with rose petals on top, sugared and dried. So you get rose flavor from the dried petals and also some crunch of sugar. The champagne adds perhaps a bit of richness. A light and feminine medallion.

The Violet Creme is feminine, as well, although perhaps not light in the same way as the Champagne & Roses. Violet is, after all, a stronger and more in-your-face flavor than rose (which is not to say that I dislike violet at all, quite the contrary). Violet also brings even more of that classic and vintage feel. Once again, sorry that the purple and blue heart didn't photograph as nice as it looked when I bought it: it's hard to get these home in exactly the original condition, especially now that we're in warm weather season. The flavor of this truffle is truly delightful. This is the type of piece that's perfect and flawless as a simple product because the flavor that it does contain are wonderful. The violet brings in that strong, distinctive flavor and the chocolate adds the right balance of warmth and richness. I don't know if it's just because it's the one that I have with me right now, but I think this one might be one of my favorites from Black Butterfly so far.

And now to the toffee. I heard this name and knew I had to get it. Banana Toffee Crunch. Yes, that is for me, for me specifically. I already like toffee (because it crunches and it has that classic sweet taste to it). And I always get excited over banana with chocolate because it's a pairing you don't see too often, banana being easy to work into an ice cream sundae but more difficult to bring into a chocolate bar or a truffle.

In this case, the banana is in the form of banana chips. While banana chips wouldn't work for every product, here they're just right since the chocolate already has crunch from the toffee. So a little more crunch blends right in. The seven ounce bag comes with one-to-two-bite pieces, easy for sharing while you're hanging out with a group under the trees at the Square or great for keeping at your desk to munch on like chips. Depending on which you get, banana or toffee or feulletine (which is also in here to make up a third element), each bite is a little different. The toffee adds that familiar toffee flavor and sticky-crunch texture; it's in nice and small pieces. The banana comes in with almost more of an unexpected but fitting flavor since, once again, you don't come across banana in chocolate much and yet the flavors do go so well together. I don't normally notice the feulletine distinctly on its own, except sometimes when I find a piece after the chocolate has melted away. This is one of those instances, though, where I say that I would probably notice if it weren't there.

Rather than trying out something new (which is great, too, of course), this time I just zeroed in on the things that I know make me happy. Flowers and toffee. Nice and simple and yet also well-done (because of course simple does not necessarily mean that something will be well-done). Also pretty and light, which feels perfect for this transitioning-into-summer season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Fates Divide

I'm already doing a terrible job at keeping up with the new books (and not new books) that I want to read, but I enjoyed Veronica Roth's Carve the Mark so much that I took the time to reread it before its sequel, The Fates Divide, came out this spring.

Disappointing thing was, I couldn't get into the new book. There was so much more focus on characters I didn't care for, namely Isae. There was more of a political side to the content this time (and mainly it was Isae and politics together, so that made whole chapters of very little interest to me). And even characters I did like or relationships I did like (like Cyra and Akos) were just dwelling in content I didn't care for (honestly, it felt "general YA" to me rather than what I had come to think of as specifically Veronica Roth). So the book sat for, well, months, with my bookmark about a third or so of the way in. I had other things to do than read and then I had other things to read.

Finally when I picked it up again, it got better. Turns out, I'd left off right at that turning point in a book when the tone and pace change. It returned to more of what I wanted. And I can't complain about the ending. There were, let's see, two main things that happened in the plot that I kind of predicted the second before they happened. Which means that they were things that the entire plot beforehand pointed toward but things that were difficult to guess before all of the pieces moved into place. So it all went in a good direction.

I can't really complain, then. And I'm not. I do think, though, that the best part of this story remained in the first book, along with certain pieces of this second book that tie it all in. (I'm being intentionally vague here rather than talk too much about plot.) The first book was the one with all of those great questions about character and guilt and justice and pain and duty and personal choice, etc. All of that came into play in here, as well, just not in quite the same way. In the first book, everything was fresh and sharp. Here, maybe it felt like most of the important character things were done; we just had to finish up some plot things. (I didn't think of this while I was reading, but I wonder if that means that this story was originally just one book instead of two and that it was the publishers who wanted it stretched out into two for obvious reasons.) Not that there was no plot: there was plot. And like I said, I like the direction it all went to in the end.

The idea of fate sounds worse than it is. Personal choice still exists. Positive and negative still exist; sometimes knowing how to be part of one or the other, well, that can be more complicated. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Disneyland Adventures: Part 2

I had been hearing such tell of so many Disneyland foods that I had never tried. So for this trip, I had a mental list of many, many foods I wanted to get to--if I could fit them all in during just a short day and a half visit.

To maximize time, as well, I decided to go for the bringing-things-to-snack-while-you-walk-in method for breakfast, which would probably also allow for two lunches instead of just one. This method also meant that, only by the time we were making out way from Hyperspace Mountain and Star Tours over to the west side of the park, I was getting hungry again. And there was no line for Dole Whips, so I thought, hey, why not just get one now.

I'd never had a Dole Whip before. I was too excited to even get a picture of the pretty yellow swirl; I just started eating it instantly. And it is kind of fascinating, almost more like a popsicle than an ice cream. Nice and light, a little tangy. I did kind of eat it quickly quickly (which is unlike me) because I was expecting there to be a little bit of a line for Splash Mountain by this point in the morning but there was barely an inch of a line (maybe it had opened late that morning).

Since I don't have a picture of the Dole Whip, here is a picture of the Jungle Julep.

The Jungle Julep is not as exciting as the Mint Julep that you can get in New Orleans Square. That mint and lime drink is lovely; this one was okay. It was more of a slushy drink, with a fruit candy type of flavor. Pretty, though. I had the Jungle Julep because first lunch of the day (around 11:30 maybe?) was at Bengal Barbecue, another place I had never tried. The chicken skewer was good; I would get that again. But the vegetable one was disappointing, especially after I had heard that oh, they're so wonderful, the only way to get people to eat vegetables who don't usually like vegetables. The squash were fine, the onions I would have preferred cooked a little more (I stopped eating them before the end), I don't like peppers (so I didn't eat much of those, either), and the potatoes mainly tasted like cheap potatoes to me (which probably just means that they weren't organic--because yes, I can often tell--with bananas, too--I'm not trying to be snobby, there's just a taste difference).

And a Disneyland corndog? I had never had one of those. So second lunch was one from DCA. Which is funny because, well, yes, it was good, but there is also a limit to how good a corndog can be. Anyways, if the hot dog itself were better quality, then the whole thing would have been better, too. But yes, sure, it was good as corndogs go.

Dinner, by the way, was a Mint Julep and a Monte Cristo and a beignet at New Orleans Cafe. Classic.

Day two started with a ride on Autopia and then the opening of Toontown for the day (more on that later). And then breakfast from Jolly Holiday Bakery enjoyed at one of the tables there in Toontown, which was really perfect. It was that moment where I was so hungry that a croissant with egg and bacon (I always end up taking bacon out and yet I didn't this time; that's telling) and some fruit on the side was just the best thing ever. And watching Toontown in the morning before it's full of people? Somewhere on the line between peaceful and whimsical, a special tone.

Lunch that day was at Rancho del Zocalo, where, you know, I got the tostada salad for the shorter line and because tostada salads basically have all the ingredients that other dishes have, anyway. Nothing remarkable but it was good; I'd go there again if I didn't have anything else I particularly wanted to try.

And then the last thing. The last thing I ate at the parks was from Red Rose Tavern, where I went just to get the Grey Stuff and Gaston's Brew.

The dessert is white chocolate mousse served up on a thin sugar cookie. Hiding inside of that big swirl is cake, red velvet, I suppose. Not the absolute most amazing dessert I've ever had; mainly I had to get it because I had to have it while I had the opportunity. But it was nice and I enjoyed it. If I hadn't just had lunch, I would have been able to finish it myself; otherwise, I recommend sharing. And the brew? It's a fruity drink that's maybe not as good as the Mint Julep but is a better option for a drink than, well, standard soda and lemonade and iced tea options. The main thing about it is the way it looks: just like a foamy beer. (The foam had fallen a bit by the time I took the picture; it looked even better freshly made.)

Want to put a cap on the experience? Don't drink it at Red Rose. Walk with it to your next destination and see what kind of reactions you get from the people around you. That'll be its own entertainment.

There are times when you visit Disneyland and you just seek out the least expensive, quickest, most fueling food. It was really nice to get to try out all of these different things that I wanted, without limits. Another dash of sugar on the experience that made this trip so much fun.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Han & Lando

I did at least start reading Daniel Jose Older's Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel before watching Solo. I wasn't able to finish before the movie, though, but honestly, I don't think that mattered. Some books do set things up for the movie; Catalyst before Rogue One was a great example of that. This one kind of introduced you to the tone and to L3, but that's about it.

Remember how, with the movie, I said that it played out like a side scene that could have been part of a bigger story but that I just didn't overly care about as its own separate movie? There's a similar feeling in the tone of the book as with the movie--except that this was just another book among many. So in the case of the book, I was fine with just reading a random adventure. This book was fun in a casual way. I kept on forgetting who characters were each time I picked up the book again, but that didn't really matter too much: I just kept rolling with it all.

Not that it was an entirely meaningless plot. This plot was big enough that I can see other stories referring to it in the future. Though the book was a prequel to the movie, it's split between taking place pre-A New Hope and post-Return of the Jedi. And you know what that means?

Toddler Ben Solo. Toddler Ben Solo. I totally would have read this book just to get those scenes with toddler Ben Solo because they created a great character there and I always love getting these little hints at his background. Specifically, his background with his parents. Leia, the nurturing one. Han, the one who cares but just feels like he can't. Leia, the one Ben couldn't shoot down. Han, the Ben lightsabered with tears in his eyes. He thought he was killing the past but all he was killing was his father. So all of those little bits and pieces about Ben and about Han and Leia were great.

This book moved at a good pace. The pacing and the lightheartedness (which is maybe an odd word to use given that the plot did involve mutilation and potential genocide or whatever) made it an easy read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Disneyland Adventures: Part 1

Like an ache it begins: the longing to return to Disneyland. It had been nearly three years since I'd been, which I realize isn't actually a long time--but it feels like a long time to me. So earlier this month, I up and went to Disneyland for a magical one and a half days. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Maybe I could have spent longer there if I had waited, but I needed to go in May because, well, I had to ride Hyperspace Mountain and the original announcement said the retheming of Space Mountain would only be back during the month of May. And I knew that the whole retheming thing wasn't the greatest thing in the world (I did ride Ghost Galaxy a few years back, which uses the same projection system, and really wasn't the greatest), but I still had to ride this silly ride. I've had dreams of going on this ride, my longing for it has been that great.

And yes, Disneyland is much greater than Star Wars or even Space Mountain. I'm not saying that a Star Wars element is the most important thing about Disneyland. Certainly not. But I won't deny that I was unabashedly excited for this one ride--and so I made it my first ride on the first day.

Oh, my goodness, it did not disappoint. Sure, I can see why locals would tire of it. But that first ride? It was amazing and I smiled the whole time. A familiar ride, a ride in which I know every turn and every beat, became something new. You're not just seeing projections of ships; you really are in the middle of a battle, with a plot and everything. You're dodging this and aiming for that and there are not just ships but also shots ringing out through the air. And it's like this big game that you're playing in, like you're a child with all your toys again except that this time the toys are a whole attraction system of vehicles and lights and projections, etc.

I started off my day at Disneyland with a smile. I'd done the silly number one thing that I'd wanted to do, so I knew that nothing could go wrong and everything would be wonderful. That's how Disneyland is: it's a place where you decide that you're going to have a good time. And so whatever happens, you're riding that wave of enthusiasm. You smile at it all because you've decided that it's all going to make you smile.

Ah, Disney magic.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Solo's Going Solo

The non-spoilery comment on Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it was forgettable and more shallow than I am accustomed to getting from a Star Wars universe story.

Now for the more detailed comments that you'll want to save for later if you haven't watched the movie yet.

It is true that I wasn't expecting much from this movie and that I wasn't excited for it. I thought that out of all of the possible angles to take for a new film, focusing on Han Solo's early days was the most boring one. So when you go into a movie with that attitude, anything that is good you enjoy and you tend to focus less on or be less disappointed by anything that isn't. I expected little and I got a little, so it worked.

Opening crawl. Everyone said that Rogue One was the movie that actually needed an opening crawl, so I do like the way that Solo avoided the traditional opening crawl of the saga films while still giving a piece of that effect. That was good.

Han's last name. Um, that naming story sounds good if you're a middle schooler writing a short story. But not here. It was overly contrived. Maybe it Han had chosen his own last name it might have worked. But to have an Imperial officer name him? No. An Imperial wouldn't care enough to put thought into naming an unnamed someone, and this officer had probably come across many unnamed someones with no family connections so Han wouldn't have stood out as someone to give a cool lone wolf name to. Anyway, Solo isn't the only Star Wars name that has character meaning (I always liked Finis Valorum, or "the end of valor"), so to draw attention to the meaning of his name, to me, felt like detracting from it rather than enhancing it.

The movie was fun. Sure. I kept on kind of waiting for it to gain some sort of significance, even though I had to remind myself that it probably wouldn't (and it didn't). So it kind of plays out like one long side sequence. You know, a plot thread within a film that in itself doesn't mean too much but is a cool bit. Except that that was the whole movie. A whole movie made out of a little side story.

I don't normally bring up things like this, but I'm starting to agree with everyone: why are all of the main female characters in Star Wars movies white Brits? (Okay, they're not all Brits, but the recent ones are. And yes, not everyone, we're mainly talking about just three characters here.) Nothing against any of the individual actresses. And with Rey, sure, we did want someone who could look like she was a Skywalker just for all of that early speculation. But Qi'ra? She could have had any look. Unless (I have to mention it) they still want us to speculate that she's Rey's mother (if, you know, she and Han met up again some years later). They did, after all, give her the name (just spelled differently) that they'd originally used for Rey's character (but every female character in Star Wars has been getting some version of the name Kira lately). Not that I at all subscribe to that theory, but it has to cross our minds, right?

Lando. I don't know if it's because I watched Star Wars from a young age, but I never had much interest in Lando. The whole suave thing never caught me. And honestly, I always thought of him as the new guy, the guy who had kind of been the bad guy but was now the good guy. However, Donald Glover was pretty great as Lando. The charisma, accompanied by the humor of the over-the-topness got me this time. And Han? Han also never overly interested me as a character on his own--so I literally have no comments to make about Han in this movie.

Corellia. We've head that Han is from Corellia, but this is the first time any of the films have shown the planet. I always enjoy the chance to see how "regular people" are living, so the Corellia scenes were kind of cool. Han is a person who grew up during the Empire's reign; what did that look like? How did he get by? How did other people get by? It reminds me of the images of Jedha in Rogue One and of the Lothal content in Rebels. Seeing these young people (not just Han and Qi'ra, the others, too) trying to survive and seeing what the transportation center is like helped color in the image of life under the Empire. I liked that.

Chewbacca's introduction I liked, too. That kind of caught me by surprise. Kessel? I mean, the shots of the Falcon going through the whole maelstrom thing looked cool, but we finally saw the infamous Kessel run and saw how Chewbacca got his life debt to Han and that was all we got? I'm the one who said there were more interesting stories to pursue and yet I felt like there was more content here to flesh out. We didn't even get a single mention of the life debt, after all (and there's a whole canon novel named after it, too, so it doesn't make sense to me to not bring it up).

And Darth Maul. Ha, ha, who doesn't like that he had a cameo? It would seem that we'll be seeing more of him in the future, too.

Hmm. These are all just random, disjointed comments because my only cohesive comments are what I said in the beginning: this film was shallow and unmemorable. I remember with Rogue One, I didn't think that I would like the movie that much after hearing that it would be more of a war film but I was also looking forward to seeing what they did with a Star Wars movie apart from the saga. And they delivered something with significance, something that brought that Star Wars feel even while it brought other things, too. Solo didn't bring much of a Star Wars feel. I'm not saying that it all needs to be about putting your life on the line for the rebellion and all that. But we need that important character moments and the beautiful cinematography and the nature imagery and . . . I don't know. Something else. They tried by putting in the Cloud Riders, but that felt slightly contrived and not connected enough with the current story in order to give the current story heart; all that gave was a sort of nod to the rebellion with which we're all familiar. And when I say that stories don't need to be all about life for the rebellion, the books and TV shows are the examples of that. There are other stories that have that feeling, even if they're not about Cassian and Jyn stealing the Death Star plans or Luke defeating the Emperor by throwing aside his lightsaber or whatnot.

It's a cool idea to have Star Wars films apart from the Saga. There is so much to explore. And they don't all have to be as good as your favorite Star Wars film. But what's the point in having so many new movies if they have such a small, fleeting significance? What did Solo really add to the mix? Very little.