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.

Monday, May 21, 2018


I'm walking in the present while aware of eternity.

I'm facing today with my hands and eyes reaching upwards.

I'm rotating from one sphere to another, from a place where I needed people to influence me to a place where I realize that I can influence others.

I'm walking with brightness because I realize light passes from one person to another.

I soak in and absorb the light. I reach for it; I cling to it; I thirst for it. And then I hope that I can spread it, in any way, to others.

I spend my days naturally positive and upbeat--so different from how I once was, once upon a time.

I crave prayer and worship like I never did before. I understand getting down on my knees and lifting my hands like I never did before.

I am capable now like I never was before and I am vulnerable now like I never was before.

I stand with such a better sense of self and also the realization that it is not from myself that my strength comes--and that's what makes me capable.

Even when I'm walking over my mountains, I'm surrounded by the light.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Stone Grindz: Mint & Nib

One of the great things about Stone Grindz is the chance for me to catch up on new creations or specials (even though I suppose I still haven't tried all of their more standard chocolates . . . but there's time for that in the long term, right?). So the one I have here today is the Mint & Nib bar. Mint chocolate I have had and chocolate with cocoa nibs in it I have had--but mint and nibs together I don't think I have had before.

Opening up this package reveals sugary nibs on the back of the bar in chocolate bark style. They're like little gems on the shiny, smooth surface of the chocolate. Immediately I get the aroma of the mint in what I have been, in my recent comments about mint chocolate, calling more of the mint oil variety.

Obviously, the nibs invite you to crunch the chocolate. And nibs do have such a great, unique crunch. Naturally, there are more of them towards the middle of the chocolate and less towards the edges, so the corners don't necessarily have any nibs at all. The effect of the nibs, I realize, is the mint crunch effect that you get from cookies and candy bars--just brought out with a different type of ingredients. Crunch adds casualness while the use of nibs keeps things classy. So casual classy--would that make this chocolate chic?

The mint is mint. It didn't particularly wow me, but it stood its ground. The flavor of the chocolate, too, makes for a great flavor base; it's smooth in flavor with just enough presence to create quality while also not detracting from the main effect of the mint and nibs. Interestingly, the first time I tried this chocolate was at my usual time for chocolate tasting (mid morning), but I liked it more when I tried it again another day around evening. Those are both supposed to be the best times for tasting, but I suppose it makes sense that mint chocolate would taste nicer in the evening than the morning. After dinner mints and chocolate mint desserts all. So maybe I ought to keep that in mind as I go forward with more mint chocolates in the future.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Pangaea Dinos

I thought it was time that I shared some pictures of a few of the dinosaurs I spend so much time around* over at Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs. Let's start with the king, shall we?

This is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the King of the Tyrant Lizards. Quite cocky of a name, isn't it? I mean, when he was first discovered, no one had seen anything like this--he was truly terrifying and immediately made a place for himself in our collective imaginations. Though we've since found bigger and fiercer dinosaurs, the T-Rex will never lose his place as king.

Speaking of dinosaurs bigger than the T-Rex. Do you know my friend the Spinosaurus? He became my favorite after watching Primeval; I love how Connor and Abby come across the Spinosaurus when they're in the Cretaceous. And the Spinosaurus is like a big crocodile with a sail on its back, this hulking amphibious being. It's just beautiful. Also, the first fossil was found in Egypt--which is even better. Imagine this creature waltzing around the Nile or around the pyramids (whether or not the Spinosaurus and the pyramids existed simultaneously is irrelevant). 

And here's the itsy bitsy Spinosaurus, for the cute effect. (Granted, you can't really see size in pictures; these all look much better in person. And they all move so much.)

The velociraptors (for which I am sure you were waiting) in particular are difficult to photograph. They claw at the air and they growl and they shake their heads in ferocity. Look at those claws. I'm picturing the size of an emu's claws (or are those called toenails on an emu?) with the attitude of a cat savoring the murder of some type of creature it has just caught (a lizard or a locust or a bird or something). Vicious velociraptors. 

Look at those eyes. And they blink at you, bright spots of light with slivers like the eye of a hawk . . . or the Eye of Sauron. 

And while you were distracted by the velociraptors, did you even notice the Carnotaurus coming up from behind the trees? This is the Flesh-Eating Bull. He may be smaller than the T-Rex but that's irrelevant: he's still much bigger than we are. And his speed? Thirty miles per hour--let's see if you can outrun that. 

To give you a brief respite from your fear, here is an herbivore. The Stegosaurus, who is the Roofed Lizard because he carries all of those shingles on his back. A walking house he is. Initially, in fact, his discoverer believed that the plates had been flat on the critter's back (like with a turtle); now that would have been much more like a house with a roof than the current look, in which the shingles stick up more like spines. 

Okay, enough of the herbivores. Here, lurking in the shadows, is the Allosaurus. Many, many of these have been found, quite a few of them in Utah. Picture this great predator stalking the landscape of Monument Valley. 

And last we have not a dinosaur but a flying reptile. Remember, the flyers and the swimmers weren't dinosaurs. And the flyers weren't pterodactyls; that's just a common speech name. Technically, only Pterodactylus genus can be called pterodactyls--and there were plenty of other kinds. Just think of how many different kinds of birds, for instance, we have today. You can't call them all hawks because, cool as they are, pigeons just aren't hawks. 

And on that random analogy, we have come to the end here. Just a little quick glimpse at a few of these critters. If you're in Scottsdale (or, you know, Arizona) and you have the desire to spend some time around some dinosaurs (and who doesn't want to spend time around dinosaurs?), this is the place. 

*At this point, perhaps you'd like me to add the disclaimer that if you hadn't realized already, yes, I do work for this company in one form or another. But would I be blogging about it if I didn't genuinely like the place?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Rereading Books

I don't know if everyone was like this, but when I was younger I reread books a lot. True that when you're in school, you have access to the school's library that (for every non-fictional person I've come across) ends up being an endless supply of reading material all at your fingertips. But I also owned less books and read books at home for, well, a great percentage of my free time. It was like I jumped from picture books straight to Little House on the Prairie (on reflection, it seems that I simply didn't acquire new books in that stage when you're transitioning out of picture books into chapter books). So, in a sense, those were the only books that I owned for a bit.

That meant that I read them again and again. I also got Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Black Beauty around that same age of about ten to eleven years old--and I read those first two again and again, too. In middle school? It was The Chronicles of Narnia. Somewhere in the middle school to high school transition, it was The Lord of the Rings. Jane Eyre also turned into my steady companion, a book that I need to read every few years just because I've let it become so much a part of me.

Books that I've read more recently, though? (And by recently, I mean in the past probably ten years.) I don't read through them a second time, even if I've enjoyed them. (Okay, I just did reread Veronica Roth's Carve the Mark to prepare for the sequel [which I strangely am having a hard time getting into despite how much I enjoyed the first book], but that was unusual. And I'm not counting books that I read for a second time during college, like Beowulf or Ceremony.) Why not? I guess the more you read, the more aware you are of books that you have not read. So it starts to feel like you can't waste time in rereading something when there are so many things you need to read for the first time.

But still, that's different.

I can sit back and read passages of Twilight or any of Narnia in my head even though it's probably been years since I opened up the pages of either of them. I can repeat exact sentences and lines of dialogue and remember descriptions. And I think, is it because I remembered things better when I was younger? I mean, maybe that's part of it, but not all--I remember the old books so well because I read them again and again. That puts things into a different fabric in your mind. So much of what we read now is only temporary; we filter it in and out and make no effort to memorize it because we know we can look it all up again with the click of a button. But I miss being able to recall everything about an author's style simply because I could call to mind the very sentences and paragraphs they formed.

There are so many of the old books that I'm craving to read again. It's like they're old friends that I've abandoned in favor of fleeting flings. Jane and Frodo and Shasta, I miss you all. And yet--if, because of the rereading I did years ago, I can picture in my head passages from your stories, is that really so different from picking up the old pages again?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Shattell: Peru 70% Cocoa

While World Market did have a few bars from Shattell, I decided to just start with one--and now probably they don't even have the rest anymore. If that's the case, that's kind of a shame: this has turned out to be a gorgeous bar of chocolate.

I chose the 70% Cacao bar, marked as Single Origin Pucacaca - Peru. The cool thing is that this chocolate is both sourced from Peru and made in Peru. Shattell is based in Lima. So we're continuing our trend here of trying chocolate made in a greater variety of countries--and it's even better that besides just being from a country whose chocolate I don't come across often, this chocolate is made in the country in which it was grown. (That was not a wordy sentence; I don't know what you're talking about.) And it's organic, which is great, as well.

The packaging hits that trendy mark that gives a sense of the natural world, artisan products, etc. Inside the blue, llama-bedecked card box is a matte gold wrapper, which makes for a nice change from the usual gold/silver foil or clear wrap. The bar is quite beautiful. Even though the design is simply rectangles, there is a subtle curving to them that enhances the look. The surface, too, comes across as rich and red and more than usually appealing. Because the aroma is both pleasant and bitter, I worried that the chocolate might taste overly bitter.

That, however, did not end up being the case. The first phrase that came to mind initially was cherry bark. I guess the flavor was halfway between sweet and zingy. The texture, from the start, was slightly dusty. Quickly, the flavor developed into that specific taste belonging to cocoa nibs; this is a flavor that can be potentially bitter but in this case didn't register at all as such. There is definitely some sweetness to this chocolate; it's the sweetness of unrefined cane sugar, though, along with warm cocoa flavor. So simple, that's how this chocolate's flavor comes across--and yet it is so specific that it feels quite artful. It hits that line where it tastes of chocolate but is also sweet and yet not in that weird "sweet dark chocolate" way at all.

And that slight dusty texture? It continues throughout, but it works here and somehow goes beautifully with the flavor. I don't know, it makes me feel like someone just made this chocolate in their home in front of me and then offered it to me and I ate it like a piece of gingerbread. There truly is something stylistically different about this chocolate compared with the usual chocolates made in the U.S. or U.K. or Europe. So I'll repeat what I said earlier: this chocolate is gorgeous.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Saguaros in Bloom

Okay, not just saguaros. I mean, saguaros are one of the coolest of spring flowers, but I have a couple of others to share, too, like these pretty orange ones:

But back to those saguaros. Saguaros blossoming is one of the pieces of magic belonging to the Sonoran Desert. The cactus trees start growing little knobs on top of each arm and then each knob blooms into a flower for one day only. That is, each flower only lasts for a day; the series of blooms will last longer. So you'll look over and see a flower and treasure it. 

These are all from the Desert Botanical Garden. These awesome red tongues were growing from octopus arms of cactus beams. The yellow that you see around belongs to the yellow flowers of the palo verde tree. 

Look at those flowery caps on the saguaro in the back; they're natural crowns. 

So pure and simple, no?

And this one. I always pass by this cactus and yet it's so easy to miss these red fruits on it because they, too, only last for a short time. 

The rest of these pictures are from maybe a week later, on a cloudy day. 

A classic pink cactus rose. 

And pale lavender flowers. 

And these, these are wonderful. All the year, you can read the sign about the flowers that attract flies because they smell like rotted meat. But these are no flowers. And then they come--and they look like bruised purple starfish that someone just placed randomly among all of the little cactus fingers. Once more, yellow from fallen palo verde flowers. 

Springtime, springtime, still enjoying spring--though summer is riding fast on its heels.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pompeii in Phoenix

The Arizona Science Center has had their exhibit on Pompeii for a few months now--it closes in just a couple of weeks here. Naturally, though, everyone (including me) is currently looking at the calendar and saying, whoa, I need to go see that before it's gone. I had how long and yet I had to wait until May?

Timing doesn't matter, though, as long as you do make it over. This is quite the exhibit to see, not one to miss. Was it, though, everything I wanted it to be?

That's a strange question. Pompeii is one of those settings, like the Titanic (the Science Center had a pretty good exhibit on that several years back, too), that is romanticized because of its tragedy and just exists in this crazy fictional space in our heads despite being historical. The fact that we're talking about real people almost increases the fictional side of it all. So you go in thinking about the marketing image of the volcano exploding--and you want that romanticized horror factor. You can't pretend that you aren't seeking that.

But honestly, that's sad. Pompeii, the place known as the city where so many people died, is sad. So this exhibit was sad. I don't want to give away the final couple of rooms in case anyone hasn't been to see it yet--but they set it up well to give an effect. So if you're coming in to see tragedy, you'll see tragedy.

And the rest of it? You do get to see some great artifacts. Marble statues, mosaics, furniture, dishes, jewelry, money, tools, theatre masks, gladiator gear, etc. They're extremely old and also from a part of the world that, well, we don't get many artifacts from here in the Southwest. It's fascinating to see all of these little details from the Roman culture. The mosaics and furniture were some of my favorites to see, I think. But even all of this still brought me back to that sad feeling. Coming from my personal perspective, so many aspects of the Roman lifestyle just make me feel sad. I came in expecting to be sad about how these people died but I ended up feeling sad about how they had lived. And yes, yes, this is why I emphasize the phrase "personal perspective." I'm not trying to be judgy about dead people. But how can you really go in and read things about, for instance, gladiators and not feel at least some shred to regret? (And seeing things like this that stand out in past cultures can remind us of things that will stand out to people in the future about our culture, bringing these around to a reminder of what we can be doing better. So, yes, sadness about the failings of our humanity in general.)

We live and then we all die. That is the story of the Pompeii exhibit.

What are the footprints that you want to leave behind?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

La Naya: Strawberries, Cinnamon & Cayenne Dark Chocolate

Despite the cayenne (and my usual disinterest in spicy chocolate), immediately this bar caught my eye at World Market as something unique. Look at that earthy tone of the pencil drawing, highlighted with just a muted touch of color. The hand drawn effect implies that the style of this chocolate will be based on traditional food rather than experimental flavor combinations--or rather than trends that are just exciting because they're trendy rather than because they're wonderful. And La Naya Chocolate is based out of Lithuania, which is not a country I come across too often in, well, any context but especially not in terms of chocolate. So that's exciting. There are organic and handmade labels--I'm not entirely certain what "handmade" means but I guess that's okay.

The chocolate is named for the valley of La Naya, which appears to be in Guatemala. There are some poetic descriptions on the back of the card box about the valley and about the tone that it inspired for the company. Here's this: "Lonely moments should not be terrifying. They should be liberating." So, you know, taking moments to observe and take in and savor the world around you. Definitely perfect for setting the scene for chocolate (I used to so often draw nature pictures in my chocolate reviews--I don't seem to do that much anymore, do I?).

At $5 for 80 grams, this bar came in at an average price. The chocolate comes in a pretty design, more modern than what I'd expected given that earthy style of the outside. Then again, though, the angular shapes can also represent mountains, which are a nature element. All of those angles don't photograph well, but they do look cool.

Though a scent of strawberries and chocolate comes from the chocolate, there are no visible strawberry pieces or anything like that. Given that this is a flavored chocolate, I decided that chewing slightly would be the best way to go rather than just letting it melt. Early on, the flavor is of cinnamon and cayenne commingled. Then I picked up that specific chocolate taste that belongs to the Mexican hot chocolates like Abuelita and Ibarra--it's something about the way that the chocolate and sugar combine, or possibly about the type of sugar or maybe even the type of chocolate. If you're familiar with these hot chocolate discs, then you'll know the flavor I mean.

While this chocolate is only lightly dark, neither is it exactly what I would call sweet dark chocolate, either. It's at a good, grounded level somewhere between it all, somewhere in its own space. Now, I don't know that I taste much of the strawberries--but there is a sense of sweetness to the mix (separate from the chocolate element) that I imagine would probably disappear if the strawberries were suddenly taken away. The strawberries, by the way, are freeze dried. If you're not a fan of the almost crispy texture of freeze dried strawberries in chocolate, don't worry: it's just chocolate texture all the way through here.

Back to the spice. It isn't too much. Instead of being spicy chocolate, this is flavored chocolate. Sure, there is a light spiciness that you'll notice more if you're sensitive to spiciness. But a good percentage of people won't find this chocolate spicy at all--which I count as a positive. Again, the cinnamon and cayenne are commingled, which helps to build up that sense of flavors rather than reactions (that is, burning). That commingling is what makes this flavor mix work.

So, yes, it does remind me of something kind of traditional, of that sense of older flavor profiles. I feel like this chocolate is based on an old recipe for drinking chocolate. That is, it doesn't have to be that; it's just that it gives me that sense of the historical, the traditional, and the natural. As far as putting together good flavored chocolate, La Naya has satisfied me so far.