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 Organiko: Ibiza Salt Dark Chocolate

And now we have the last piece in the trio from Chocolate Organiko. 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 Organiko: Masala Milk Chocolate

Continuing with the trio from Chocolate Organiko, 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 Organiko: Honey Milk Chocolate

This week I'll be doing something a little different. I have three of these cute little bars from Chocolate Organiko, 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 Organiko 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.