Monday, June 10, 2019

Is Disney Being Smart?

Those of us who grew up watching the classic Disney animated films ask ourselves why they keep putting out live action remakes. Sometimes they're fun, but wasn't it more fun when, for instance, the first Pirates of the Caribbean came out? (That was based on a ride, but it still counts as original.) We decide that, well, they know we'll go to see the movies, anyway, so that's why they keep making them.

But I just realized that it may be something else: they're keeping the beloved stories relevant.

Since we grew up on the old films, we think they're relevant. And they are. But anyone who spends time around kids or people who have kids knows that the reality is usually different. I remember Jennifer Oakes on YouTube mentioning that her children don't like the classically animated films--they only like the newer animation. And I know someone who's said the same thing. So that cuts out Snow White, Bambi, Peter PanCinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, etc. Maybe when they're older they'll rediscover the old classics, but kids these days are watching the new stuff: Tangled, Frozen, and Coco. And yet because Disney isn't just a film studio, they want to find a way to keep kids' interest in the old classics.

They can certainly use Frozen and Coco in the theme parks and for merch. But they still want to keep all that they've built up on the old stories. So how do they do that? By making new films that are a little different but mainly still just the same thing, reworked in a new way that children today will watch today. They don't need to win over the parents to love the new movies and say they're the best thing ever: if the parents just buy a copy at the store when it becomes a low-priced DVD or they turn the movie on at home through Netflix, then the kids are the ones getting to see the story and getting to form a connection with it just like their parents did before them with the animated films. They'll both love the same story, even if they made a connection to it from a different source.

It makes enough sense that I'm sure Disney must have been thinking this all along and I don't know why I only just realized it now. (That is, maybe I had to a lighter degree, but I hadn't quite made that connection with the whole kids-don't-like-old-animation thing before.)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Wild Ophelia: Chocolate Dipped Strawberry

It's complicated, my opinion on strawberries. Usually I can only eat a little at a time, in slices (that is, small, thin bites), or I'll put them in the blender if I'm going to be able to finish off a basket by myself while they're still fresh. And while chocolate dipped strawberries are supposed to be such a luxury, I find them anything but. Usually they're quite bad strawberries without any flavor and quite bad chocolate full of oil that go into chocolate dipped strawberries--not luxury at all. But the concept is nice, I suppose.


This second bar from Wild Ophelia is the Chocolate Dipped Strawberry; it comes with that same fun, cute, Instagram-esque look for the younguns. It fits especially well with the concept of chocolate covered strawberries, too, eh?

Inside, the chocolate smells like chocolate and like strawberry, like in a shake or a spread or something of that sort. It has that intoxicating, vanilla, confection tone to it.


And the flavor once more, like with the Bananas Foster bar from Gnaw a couple months ago, reminds me of Duvalin candy (the Mexican candy that's a creamy paste in a little tray with a plastic spoon). Creamy chocolate and strawberry flavor. Only, you know, a little more real. There are pieces of strawberry in here, which do mess with the texture somewhat (though that might be mainly because I'm thinking of Duvalin). But they're quite tiny and only affect texture in a minuscule way, so they're acceptable. They're freeze-dried, though their small size means that they don't give that usual freeze-dried texture, which is appreciated. They start releasing most of their strawberry flavor towards the end, as the chocolate fades and they're able to let their specific flavor come through.

The chocolate has that hint at rich milk chocolate, but mainly it's all creamy and chocolate and strawberry. Duvalin up a notch (or a few notches, honestly, why do I say I dislike Nutella because of cheapness but I like Duvalin? I'm strange). It tastes just like the packaging looks: cute and fun. An extremely edible chocolate confection in a chocolate bar.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Shifting Sands

In dark, there is light.

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Isaiah 9:2. You are cared for.

In fear, there is hope.

"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." Joshua 1:9. You are never alone.

Sometimes life is like shifting sands. You will never be one thing forever. Your mood will change. Your perspective will change. Your circumstances will change. Sometimes you will be happy and sometimes you will be sad. Sometimes you will soar, and sometimes life will be rough. But try to remember that all of this will shift. So when sometimes you can't see past a haze, just remember that it's just a haze caused by events or even chemicals . . . and it, too, will shift. I don't mean to say that things will get better; I mean that things will shift to a different angle and then back and then to a new place and then back again.

Sometimes remembering that is all can do until we're ready to start moving back into positivity.

"Light House" by The Word Alive can start to set the stage, start working you in. And then "My Lighthouse" by Rend Collective brings your focus back to what the light really does mean, to what stays constant through the shifting scenes.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Aladdin

While my deeper investment with Beauty and the Beast (both the 1991 film and the story in general) probably increased my criticism of that live-action remake, I don't have the same connection with the 1992 film. In fact, I really didn't have any memories of watching it growing up--so I really didn't see it until college. That makes watching a live-action remake easier, I'm sure.

As far as the live-action remakes of the princess films go, Aladdin seemed to settle on the ground that Beauty and the Beast was unable to. Beauty and the Beast was like they were just recreating scenes--and not as well--and with additional scenes that changed the pacing or theme too much to go along with the rest of it. (Cinderella, by the way, I thought was wonderful--there they did a subtle tweaking that adjusted the plot/theme just slightly to modernize it.) Aladdin kept the familiar things like the songs or certain moments but did everything different--and to a different theme.

We know that it's all going to be different not from the Genie story framing but from meeting Jasmine right away in the marketplace. We see her first from Aladdin's perspective, which is fitting because the film is named for him, after all. So we see the events of the story unfold differently than they do in the animated version.

And they did a great job at modernizing the theme here, too. Less subtle than with Cinderella, here it was a complete reworking. One of the things I've criticized about the animated film is its reliance on the same old marriage plot, despite being a modern film. So here they just reworked that and made the point being rulership of the kingdom. Jasmine has to marry because she can't be sultan. Her words in the film focus not on wanting to marry for love but on her love for her kingdom. And the final "success" is her father making her sultan. As sultan, she can choose to marry who she loves (Aladdin), but that becomes secondary. It is more important for Jasmine to have her place than for her to marry Aladdin.

They also more greatly stressed Aladdin's character here. Yet they also managed to do this without overdoing it. They didn't make him this greater-than-life, perfect man. He's just a guy. He does some nice things and he does some selfish things and he does some awkward things. He's just a guy, but a good guy. And he went along this journey with his wishes, where he had the opportunity to fall in with temptation but in the end he does honor her values and relationships by choosing to free Genie.

Genie. I don't like Will Smith's vocals for the opening "Arabian Nights," but his style fit well for Genie's songs. For these songs, they also found a way to make them feel live-action with CG and not just like animated sequences in a live-action film (looking at you, "Be Our Guest," in the aforementioned other film). So it all worked. Speaking of music, I didn't care for Jasmine's new songs. One, because there were all of those shifts to keep the story from Aladdin's perspectives--yet the songs stressed Jasmine's perspective. Two, because they felt too staged even for a Disney film. In fact, this would be a good time to mention that overall this film felt much like watching a better-than-usual, bigger budget, made-for-TV movie. It had that cloying quality to it. Not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

The use of dance was great, though. They went for almost a 1950's or 1960's era musical style, with all of the grand choreography. If you're going to make a musical, right? (And maybe this style was also why those songs where Jasmine was just walking towards the camera and singing felt out of place with the rest of it all.)

So it was an entertaining movie to watch. Enjoyable, family film. I wouldn't call it anything more than that--but that's okay.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial

I spend much time around this wonderful, wondered Victorian home sitting in the middle of Downtown Phoenix. The third family to live in this home were the Higleys; their youngest son was named James (and he was the only son of Jessie Higley, as the oldest son was from Stephen Higley's first wife). There is a picture of Jessie, her young daughter Jessie Jean, and her little baby James. James is smiling, just a perfectly happy and cheery baby. So much more natural of a smile even than we tend to be used to seeing in old photos.

And then skip forward to the other picture of James, as a young man in his Army uniform. James died in France during WWI.

The beautiful, happy baby. The mother's child. The pretty little girl's little brother. Grown up only to barely grow up and then die . . . under what circumstances?

I used to have this great interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder geology. I enjoyed looking at her family tree, seeing her siblings and her parents and her mother's siblings and their children and her grandmother's siblings and so on. I also very much liked the modern-written Little House style series that focused on Laura's mother Caroline.

Being old enough to know what the Civil War was came at around the same time that I was looking at all of this geology--and seeing that Caroline's brother Joseph died in the Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a heartbreaking link that I would always be able to take with me, to know that this boy I had met as a fictional character, this boy who was based on a real person, was a real person who died there on that field. He was Caroline's older brother. How did she feel when she learned he was gone? Did she think about him sometimes when she was with Laura? When they were on the long wagon rides or surviving the relentless cold of the famous long winter?

Real people with real lives. Real pain and real loss.

Memorial Day is to remember them . . . and not all of them died so many years ago.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Wild Ophelia: Hazelnut Cocoa Toast

While I'm not entirely sure if this bar from Wild Ophelia is new, it was new to me, so I snatched it up, along with another that I'll probably get to next week. And then I kept looking at it and it kept looking at me and I said, haven't we met before? It seemed so familiar, as did the bar for next week. But no, turns out I've reviewed neither of them.


Maybe it's just the concept that sounds so familiar. Hazelnut and chocolate are a standard flavor combination, though a lovely one, as well. And the name Hazelnut Cocoa Toast is reminiscent of Theo's Bread and Chocolate, which I reviewed, oh, probably eight to ten years ago. The card box's design is simple and fun. It has that cutesy/trendy side to it that makes it very young and Instagram-y looking; maybe that's why, while I like the look, I'm also feeling a slight disconnect from it.

Once you open the packaging, the chocolate comes out with a great, fudge aroma--or perhaps it's more like fudge spread specifically. You'll want to chew this chocolate a little because it has teeny little crisped "bread" pieces in it to represent the toast. They're fun, with a texture slightly similar to crisped rice--or maybe more like itty pieces of wafer. That would in fact be the better comparison given that the ingredients lists them as "crushed crepes dentelles biscuits." They do in fact give just the right texture to the chocolate without detracting from or overwhelming the other elements; they just make it fun.


Obviously, of course, we have the welcome hazelnut flavor going on, though it comes along with more chocolate flavor than you would normally find in spreads. This is, after all, the fairly high cocoa content (for milk chocolate) of 41% and Wild Ophelia also has decent quality chocolate, so of course you'll find some better chocolate flavor in here than in a cheap spread (I like chocolate hazelnut spread, but as I've said before, not Nutella because Nutella is just oil).

Let's get back to the bread for a moment. The toasty biscuit pieces bring with them a touch of salt and almost a butter flavor, which help to bring even more of a feeling of toast. It's quite a nice effect. I wish I had Theo's Bread and Chocolate to provide a comparison of the two--though I suppose that isn't really necessary. I enjoyed that bar and I'm enjoying this one, so that's sufficient.

While some of Wild Ophelia's flavor combinations can sound more fun to try than they actually end up being to eat, this one is great fun both ways. A little new and different but mainly familiar--all brought together in a way that is very much for munching.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Apache Trail

Well, you know I was just going to visit the Lost Dutchman Museum. I figured Lost Dutchman State Park would have to wait for another time, but I could go ahead and visit the museum. This was the closest I had been to the mountain that I usually only see from far off. It's an imagination-sparking piece, that's for certain.

Four Peaks

I went to the museum. It's basically a little room with lots of reading material and some collections of artifacts and antiques. In fact, there is enough reading material to fill quite a decent-sized museum, so I definitely recommend going ahead and reading as much as you can while you're there. History about the area, some geology, stories from various Native American tribes about the Superstition Mountains, and stories of all the searches for the Lost Dutchman Mine (they all end tragically, just adding to the "superstition" of it all). Outside, you can visit the church and a couple of other buildings left from the old movie filming location. When the weather is nice, they do have other events and things going on outside. Mainly, though, it's just a nice little spot to visit. Lots of books in their gift shop (a fact they even advertise on their website--and it is true).

That one's Lost Dutchman


It was a nice visit, but I am, as I mentioned earlier this week, so burning alive right now that I couldn't stop there. I was like an addict, like, I can't just sit here and drool at this awesome volcanic thing jutting from the earth and then turn around and be home in half hour. I need more. So I thought, well, maybe I can drive up a little bit more, just to get a taste. But then, you know, I was looking at the map and thinking of all those stories of the people who walked all over this land looking for that mine and I thought, I want to see it all, so why don't I just make the circle around and then go by way of Globe and Superior back to Apache Junction and then back home? (For those unfamiliar with the area, this route starts Southeast of the Phoenix area, continues east and north and then goes back south and west again. A true circle. It is Arizona's first historic highway, the Apache Trail.)


Twists and winding shapes brought me to Canyon Lake, this beautiful body of water surrounded by cliffs. Picturesque, yes, especially after driving through volcanic, crusty, rocky desert (beautiful volcanic, crusty, rocky desert, yes, but quite a contrast to a body of water). That brings you pretty soon to Tortilla Flat, which is a gift shop, a restaurant, an ice cream shop, and a (literally) walk-in-closet-sized museum. A place to stop and take pictures and look at the view.


I kept going and where there had been other cars, suddenly there were done. Where there was pavement, suddenly there was none. When the pavement ended, so did my normality. I got out of the car, just randomly on the side of the road because there was no one there, so why not? Oh, all the rocks and plants, all the colors and textures, they were at their height, more beautiful than anything. My soul stretched across the land and I declared my love for the beautiful of it all.


I got back in the car and kept going. Now, um, I may have not quite realized that the whole unpaved thing was coming until I saw it on the signs. I could have turned around, but it was all too much fun--even getting more than I'd realized I'd been getting myself into was fun. An unpaved, steep road through canyons means driving at fifteen miles per hour. And forty miles of road means, well, I'll let you do the math. The simple fact: longer than I'd expected. I drove more that day than I've ever driven in one go before, so it was kind of exhausting. But completely worth it.


All of the winding quality meant that there were gorgeous views around every corner (and there were lots of corners). It was like adventuring and exploring without getting out and walking. It was almost like off-roading (can you tell I never go off-roading?). The road is so old and so steep and windy that many sections are also one lane. So, you know, if you do meet someone coming in the opposite direction, you both must be careful. And given all of the turns, you have to be extra slow and careful at every turn. But everyone knows this and there weren't too many other cars, so it was all fine. Do, though, make sure you only make this drive with a car that's in good condition and with plenty of water (other supplies are always good to have, too, just in case). Even if your car is fine, you could end up stuck behind someone else whose car breaks down. It's the desert and kind of far from aid, so just be careful.


Knowing all of this just made me enjoy the drive all the more, though. I had music on and I was making loud declarations of all sorts there in my car. A wonderful time for self-reflection.

You can just see the road I'd just come down in the middle of this picture

By the time I passed the sign mentioning that there were ten more miles to the 188, I was getting exhausted from driving on all those curves. So the lookout point over Theodore Roosevelt Lake and above the dam was a welcome stop. After climbing those cliffs and seeing the river flowing through, it was like a reward up on top to find another huge body of water, this time with the crazy bridge running over it. This water was much bigger than the first--and also more open-feeling because it was above the cliffs instead of in their midst.


I've never been so excited to see pavement, too, I might add.


After this, the drive felt more like civilization. Technically this other half of the circle is still part of the Apache Trail, but mainly people use that name to describe that unpaved stretch. The second half was more just a usual, scenic drive. Great views of the mountains. A swing by Globe and a drift through Miami (this little town really caught my eye; I want to learn more about the history of it), then on through to Superior. Rocks and a tunnel and then back through past Boyce Thompson Arboretum, which I talked about on Monday. It was nice to be back in that newly familiar territory I'd so enjoyed about a week earlier. Then back to the city.


A scenic road trip through nature and history. A touch of the past, a touch of the trail. A full immersion into thrilling isolation. That was a fantastic unplanned trip of mine.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Did I Make Up Boyce Thompson Arboretum?

I am alive, burning alive. I'm writing at night when I get home from work. And I'm adventuring, exploring. This is why I don't understand the great desire people have to explore other countries: I still have so much to explore in my own state. (Not that I'm saying you shouldn't explore other countries, or that I would mind doing some of that traveling someday.) How many undiscovered corners are there, how many roads I've never driven, little museums I've never visited?


On one of these I went to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. I had somehow never been there because it's almost an hour drive from where I am, enough to make me say, oh, I'll go some other time. When I finally did go, my, my, I certainly chose a beautiful day for it. The weather was perfect. Warm without being at all hot. A light breeze and cloud coverage helped maintain the temperature, too. Absolutely stunning day to be outside.


Driving to Boyce Thompson from the greater Phoenix area is like driving out to the Renaissance Festival--and then going on for another twenty or thirty minutes. Absolutely gorgeous land. That land over by the Superstition Mountains is wonderful. Keep driving a bit and it develops more. Bushy yellow flowers decorated the hills, which were themselves beautifully scabby pieces of volcanic nature. A multitude of textures and colors, not entirely unlike Black Canyon City (which is one of my favorite parts of the drive between Phoenix and the Verde Valley).


When I passed the sign that let me know I was entering the Tonto National Forest, I looked at the saguaros around me and laughed at there being saguaros in the forest. It was a moment of, I love Arizona, Arizona the land of so many different environments, which sometimes intersect and brush against one another with beautiful contrast. Then I rounded a corner and saw Picketpost Mountain and I fell in love. I declared my love to the mountain then and there. (I now lament seeing that the Picketpost trail is rated as difficult--that means I'll just be admiring the mountain from the road, at least for the foreseeable future.)


Given that I came to Boyce Thompson just after this, my declarations of love continued. Out loud, too, I might add. A weekday in May meant that I didn't encounter too many other people, so I was mainly by myself. So why not declare to the plants and the view how beautiful they were?


There is a main trail with little, windy trails that go off of it. Certainly there was more ground to cover than I'd been expecting. I spent close to three hours and could've easily spent longer except that I was running close to closing time (I'd thought a couple hours would be plenty). Everything is less "cultivated" than other arboretum spaces can tend to be. That is, there were more cultivated sections. The greenhouses, for instance. But the Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit? It was like walking out in wild nature, though with a path running through it.


Then I turned another way and found myself surrounded by eucalyptus. Shady and lovely. I kept walking and came to the Clevenger House and I was in love again, like I'd just discovered a secret garden. All alone, I was suddenly at a house built into a volcanic hillside and surrounded by an herb garden; I thought my heart had created this place and my imagination was suddenly manifest physically around me.




Then I saw the suspension bridge and said, I want to go on the bridge. I was looking at the gorgeous wash under the bridge and the rocky, hilly, voclanicness in the view--and then I stepped over two more steps and saw Picket Post House, which belonged to the garden's founder, William Boyce Thompson (he built the home in the 20's). I laughed because I had fallen in love with the place he fell in love with all those years ago--of course we both fell in love with it: it's amazing. Then I stepped up the High Trail, which winds up along the hill/mountainside. It's rocky with steep steps, so no flip flops or bad knees for this one. Probably not the best idea to walk alone, either, but I figured that my green dress would act as enough of a beacon if I stepped on a rattlesnake under a rock or something. I'm not a hiking alone person, so this was as close to hiking alone as I feel like I can go: I was completely alone, not another person in view, just the hills and the trees and the sky and the views.



I've had a volcano obsession since I was six or seven (I used to fear them, even "extinct" ones, now I love their symbolic nature). So that's why I say I was in love with everything I saw; it was all me.




I went back around by the Drover's Wool Shed and the Cactus and Succulents Garden and the South American Desert Exhibit and then finally came around to Picket Post House from the other side. Lovely views once more and then the nice shady areas below the house. So many great places to sit at Boyce Thompson--and yet I didn't sit at all.




Now I'm wishing this park were a little closer to me. I could go there all the time. Certain more "northern" aspects of it like the trees and even the washes reminded me more of the Verde Valley, where I grew up--so it had that home feeling even while it had more of the deeper desert feel that I've come to feel akin with after living in the greater Phoenix area for years now.



I would definitely recommend allowing plenty of time to explore and enjoy. For those who need to avoid the High Trail or even the steeper section of the main trail, there are still plenty of quiet paths. Just sitting under the eucalyptus and visiting the Clevenger House would be wonderful. A gorgeous park, with its combination of cultivation, wilderness, and history.



Friday, May 17, 2019

Brona: Toffee Treat

Just some more random, imported chocolate from World Market today, nothing special. Except that, you know, it's Irish chocolate with toffee. So I bought it. You know.


The look is certainly fun. That clear wrapper shows the toffee pieces in the chocolate on one side and all of the Celtic designs on the other side. Quite pretty. The chocolate's aroma is caramel milk chocolate, strong like in a confection shop.


As already mentioned, the toffee comes in little pieces embedded in the chocolate. It's wonderful toffee, too. While it is, of course, hard, it also has some give and stickiness to it; it isn't the rock solid type. It also comes with a fantastic cooked sugar taste that gives some of that creme brûlée flavor.


The milk chocolate is milk chocolate. I would definitely say it has more of a European than American milk chocolate taste to it. So more cocoa flavor and less of just sugar and milk fat (though it certainly does have sugar and milk fat in it). A hint of richness comes in along with the strong caramel and vanilla flavors--which works well for confection chocolate.

There isn't much more to say. It's pretty straightforward: for toffee fans, this chocolate is a win. It's just what you want from a casual confection.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Young Tolkien

I do love the artist biopics (enough that I don't always allow myself to watch them because they can put me in weird moods if I watch them at the wrong times) and I do love Tolkien. So a movie called Tolkien about Tolkien's life? Why not just go see it opening night with the other dozen people who were there instead of at Avengers? And you know, sometimes you do have to catch these little movies right away otherwise they'll be out of theaters before you've even blinked an eye.

The movie focuses on the young Tolkien, the teenage orphan Tolkien who finds himself in his studies and his school friends and the college age Tolkien who excels at academia despite how his background differs from that of his peers. And Tolkien the young man who falls in love with Edith and who sees all the horrors of WWI. Funny, after the movie ended, I heard someone say how they hadn't been expecting that (they'd been moved by different things in the movie). But what had they been expecting? If you know anything about Tolkien's life, there wasn't really anything surprising in the movie. But I guess not everyone knows about Tolkien's life, hence biopics.

I would say the focus of the movie ended up being Tolkien's love for Edith and his way of dealing with or expressing what he saw in the war--and how both of these things interacted with his studies and writing. The way in which they added a touch of imagery corresponding to his fantasy writings was somewhat reminiscent of how they added the animal character imagery in Miss Potter. Obviously, the two are quite different, but the similarity was in that subtle touch; you don't want to overdue it because the story is about real life, not about the fiction itself. This would be opposed to something like Finding Neverland, where the lines are intentionally blurred more and the fantasy/animation is more pronounced.

It's easy to think of WWI when thinking of Middle-earth. But Tolkien's love for Edith is just as visible in his writing. Edith is everywhere. Most prominently, of course, in Luthien and then Arwen, but also in characters like Melian. I want to keep going and name all of the other female characters, like Galadriel and Varda, but those I think are more expressive of Tolkien's faith--specifically Catholic faith. Figures like Mary and the saints would also seem to be inspiration for many of Tolkien's characters. And yet this was the part that the film did not express.

Sure, it certainly mentioned that Tolkien was Catholic. But mainly the movie shows him at conflict with his guardian over Edith. Which was true. But he was also quite strongly Catholic. So I might have liked to see a little more of that faith in the movie. Not just drunk Tolkien shouting his broken heart on the campus grounds. They showed the hope existent in human relationships (love and friendship) but what about the hope coming from a greater power? Sure, we all know about Aragorn hoping to be with Arwen or Sam helping Frodo. But what about when Sam cries out to Galadriel from the fields of Mordor in what is essentially prayer (that Varda, presumably, answers with rain)?

They did, though, those human relationships nicely. It's tragic to see his schoolfriends that he formed such bonds with meet their young ends in brutal war. And it's . . . emotional to see the way in which he and Edith got through those years apart and then did end up together and happy their whole lives. I love that bit when his friend tells him about, essentially, the beauty of unrequited love. Ah, unrequited love. But it did end up being requited in the end--and that's the lovely part. (Side note: I don't know all the details of what was fact and what wasn't, but they certainly played with the timeline, didn't they? Tolkien was already married before he went to war.)

Main conclusion: it was a good couple hours' time. The journey was nice. But I won't be rushing out to watch the movie again, if I ever do at all. Maybe its best audience really will be people who are entirely unfamiliar with anything from Tolkien's life.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Master & Apprentice

An E.K. Johnston book followed by a Claudia Gray book? Star Wars fans are getting spoiled, eh? Probably everyone's looking forward to the next Thrawn book coming up next, but I tend to like books like these more than the Thrawn ones (though he is a cool character).

Master & Apprentice followed Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan I believe about eight years before Episode I. Obi-Wan is still a teenager, questioning his place in the world, and Qui-Gon is a man questioning his place in his community. As part of that, they question their relationship to each other.


While that relationship is the core part of this book, the plot is nice, too. Instead of the plot being the aside, this plot was entertaining in its own right to follow along with. It shows what the Jedi were up to during typical (or atypical) assignments of "guarding peace in the galaxy." So we have a bit of a political situation, a bit of mystery, and a bit of adventure. Along the way, we also get to explore questions of government versus personal decisions/roles, ethics, and morals. There are some lovely quotes about light and dark, too (I love the light and dark, as you know).

While the plot is a separate piece of its own, it does also help set up future events that we know are coming. We know that in a few years, Qui-Gon will encounter a boy he is convinced is the Chosen One from the prophecies. So this book talks about his attitude toward the prophecies over the years--and Dooku's and Obi-Wan's attitudes, as well. You see the gray area prophecies can create. And within all of the talk about prophecies, dare I say, is a bit of a tease about the sequel trilogy era. Kylo, too, looks at the past, as does Snoke--and they just released that teaser trailer with the Emperor's laugh. So we're all kind of thinking about how the past, present, and future relate. Reminds me of how some people say that Kylo is in fact the Chosen One, not Anakin, because Kylo is made up of equal parts of the dark and light sides of the Force (which is why he's always at war within himself--and it's that tense, unstable breaking point in him that Snoke encourages with the idea that it strengthens him).

Anyway. Back to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. As I mentioned, their relationship is the core part of this story. Like Obi-Wan and Anakin, they're not necessarily a perfect match; they clash in many ways. So it took going through many rough spots to form their bond. Without going over all of the details in which this manifested itself, I'll just say that I vastly appreciate a book having such a strong emphasis simply on the relationship between two characters. It's all about the characters for me, after all--and that is the core of Star Wars, as well. And while I like a good love story as much as the next person, I also like other relationships than romantic ones to get their due in the spotlight. Claudia Gray, I might also mention, was the perfect author for this book. She can write out the political situation just as well as she can write out those character relationships. This was one of my favorite Star Wars reads.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Theo: Grapefruit Ginger

When Theo came out with new flavors a couple of years back (or some amount of time like that), the others sounded great. Cinnamon Horchata? Lovely. Root Beer Barrel? Fun. But Grapefruit Ginger? No, no, that one did not appeal to me. So I'd been avoiding it; I figured I didn't need to even try it. But then I thought, why not? Sometimes it helps keep you on your toes to try flavors you don't mesh with as well--and it probably also helps readers to hear me talk about products that I don't like as much. This way you know I'm saying the truth when I do speak well of something. Add to all this that it's also interesting in its own way to talk about a flavor set that you know going in isn't your personal preference.


The same fun yet somehow also slightly muted style decorates the packaging and the usual plain style marks the chocolate inside. Said chocolate smells of dark milk chocolate and grapefruit and just a small hint of ginger. I'm not a citrus chocolate person and I while I don't mind ginger mixed in with other spices (like in chai or gingerbread cookies), I'm not overly fond of ginger on its own. The scents were fine, though, because I was just picking up these different elements and not necessarily tasting them as one combined flavor. That part would come next.

I broke off a piece to let it melt in my mouth. As it began melting, I got the citrus, though it didn't taste specifically like grapefruit to me, just citrus. Then I found a crystal in there, a ginger crystal. I hadn't been expecting the ginger to be in pieces like that. So letting the chocolate melt means that you're left with a piece of ginger in your mouth after the chocolate's gone. They're small pieces, but still--if crystallized ginger isn't your favorite thing (it is pretty strong, after all), then this isn't ideal. Even a small piece can deliver more of a hit than is necessarily desirable to some of us.


So maybe chewing would be better? Yes, definitely. In this way, I tasted the chocolate more and I tasted the grapefruit more later into the bite. Possibly the reason for this last part was that I already had ginger in my mouth so it masked the initial citrus hit--or possibly it was because the citrus takes a second to come (once the chocolate has melted to a certain degree), so that moment just felt like it came later since I'd started tasting the chocolate as soon as I started chewing (that is, before it started melting).

The chewing is definitely my preferred way. I like getting more chocolate flavor and less citrus flavor, and I prefer not to get that hit of just ginger. The chocolate is much as I'd described based on the aroma. It has a 55% cocoa content, so it's darker than milk chocolate but not quite fully dark chocolate, either. I would say that the proportions of all of the flavors seem about right. The fact that I can eat this chocolate is something, I suppose, given that the flavor themselves aren't within my personal preferences. While this chocolate wasn't enough to win me over to citrus chocolate, it gets points for being acceptable and even somewhat pleasant. It does, after all, feel wonderfully light and springy.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Looking Still

Still water on the surface,
clouds of thoughts pooling.

Silence makes the breath move,
words make the heart stop.

Sneaking out of my veins,
things that I regret.

Smiles let each new day come,
but the days past aren't forgotten.

I'm looking still at what came before
because I want it still to be.
I hate my every mistake
and I love my every victory.
I'm looking still behind me
because I want to take pieces of the past with me into the future.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Music Is the Same

I have concluded that I see music in my own unique way.

I have repeated again and again that I am not musical. So when I go see an opera, I can't comment on the musical side--only on what I get from the music. Sometimes when I tell people that I go to the opera, I also end up mentioning that I never listen to opera (never might be too strong a word--I have a couple of times and I might listen to a song from an opera by an artist I follow, but that's quite different). It's also difficult to try and describe what music I do listen to. And that music varies depending on the time and season.

Right now I have been getting into writing again. Writing music, well, often the more agitating it is, the better. I've been using Spotify a lot lately, letting it just play random things. So I was listening to some sort of rock or metal song or other (possibly "What I Am" by Crown the Empire) and I realized something (I might also add here that it's mainly the things without screaming that I'll listen to). I realized that I was getting the same thing from that song I'd been getting from the Countess's song in The Marriage of Figaro in March. Opera and a touch of metal? They're all the same to me sometimes.

I don't see music the way most people do, I think.

I see in the emotional tone of a thing. A song. A person, even. That's the word I use; I say that I don't remember what people look like, I remember their tone. What they feel like, the sense of them. So that's how I see music. And it's those intense things of emotion that I like best when it comes to art--so that's why I might go see an opera and then sit at my desk listening to Breaking Benjamin.

(Not, though, I might add, to say that I don't see the music aspect at all. There are definitely sounds that I don't like. I don't like soul or jazz or hip-hop or plenty of things--in general.)

What kind of music do you think John Keats would have listened to if he were alive today, if he had been born in, say, 1999? I doubt he would've been an operagoer. Though, then again, he did like Classical imagery, so maybe him enjoying opera today would have been similar to him hearkening back to Classical characters and images. But Keats himself was part of a newer movement of art and while there is modern opera, mostly the genre is associated with pieces that are already in existence. So who knows.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Woodblock Chocolate: Salt & Nibs

The first time I looked at Woodblock Chocolate, it was with their 70% Dark Chocolate. Now I'm returning with their Salt & Nibs, which appears to use the same 70% chocolate as the base. We have the same 25 gram mini bar again, this time decked out in blue with polka dots instead of the vintage roses against the cream background. The blue is nice, though I am personally partial to the roses. The wood-inspired chocolate mold is the same again, as well.


This time, though, flipping over the chocolate bar reveals the nibs and even some visible chunks of salt. Usually the better option when you have a flavor-packed side of a chocolate is to place that side against your tongue. But I opted for the smooth side first--and I mainly just got the chocolate. Not really any nibs or salt. A little bit of the nibs towards the end, but they really didn't distinguish themselves much from the chocolate even then.


So, nibs and salt side down, then. In this way, you do get to feel the different texture when the chocolate initially hits your tongue. But again, I still didn't get that unique crunch that nibs have. They just kind of seemed to disappear. I didn't get too much more salt this way, either. Each bite can be different for a chocolate like this, so I did get a little bit more salt and texture on the third piece. Still not a lot, though.


And yet I'm thinking that this isn't necessarily something to complain about. No weird disruptive crunches isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not having too much salt isn't a bad thing. It's definitely a more subtle take on salt and even on nibs. So if you prefer the more subtle approach (which plenty of people do), then this could be your chocolate.

The salt and nibs do add more of a casual sense to the bar as a whole, more of almost a candy bar sense except that it of course doesn't taste anything like a candy bar. As covered before, the chocolate is quite good. It's semisweet chocolate that isn't at all bitter. So this bar offers general chocolate flavor and a hint of salt and a hint of texture.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Ophelia & Padme & Jane

That connection I brought up a couple weeks ago between Ophelia and Padme has been brewing up some additional thoughts.

Ophelia, so in love with her Hamlet that she died a watery grave for him. Padme, so in love with her Anakin that she died at his very hand. Jane, so in love with her Rochester that . . . wait a second, Jane didn't die for Rochester, did she? Nope, Bertha did that for her.

Bertha is, of course, Jane: she is Jane if Jane had stayed. Yes, Jane and Rochester get the happy ending that both Ophelia/Hamlet and Padme/Anakin miss out on--but not right away. Sometimes things take time.

One of the things I loved about Southwest Shakespeare's production of Hamlet a couple years back was that it set Ophelia up as someone who also felt and thought deeply the way that Hamlet did--and that was why she was a good match for him, someone who loved him and was loved by him. So Ophelia shares in Hamlet's tragedy--because they're part of each other.

I also love that look Padme has at the end of Episode II when she's just married Anakin. It isn't that "I'm so happy" look; it's like she knows that this isn't going as she had pictured but she doesn't mind because she's chosen it, anyway. Sure, Padme was getting to that point in her life where she wanted a relationship and family--but she didn't picture that this would involve sneaking around with a secret, forbidden marriage. Yet she chooses the double life, anyway, because she decides that she wants it.

And Jane? Jane chose Rochester--and then she beheld Bertha and she high-tailed it out of Thornfield. Jane's story is a story about independence, so Jane could not, in terms of the story, value her relationship with Rochester over herself. She only returns to him when she can be with him on equal terms. So Jane does not have the tragic end of Ophelia and Padme. But does this mean that Ophelia and Padme failed where Jane did not? Well, maybe not quite so simple as that.

Okay, maybe Hamlet was ignoring Ophelia. But for how long? Not that long--and he was, well, quite distracted by the death of his father and deciding whether or not to kill his uncle for revenge or justice. So in theory, if Ophelia hadn't died and Hamlet hadn't died, then Hamlet probably would have been able to return to Ophelia after he was done killing his uncle. And Padme, well, Padme's an odd one. I mean, what if Padme hadn't died? What if she had gone into hiding? What if, years later, she heard about Anakin's redemption? I think that would have made her glad. And I don't think, if she had survived, she would have regretted being with him. You can't regret the choices that another person makes because you have no control over that. When she chose Anakin, he was a good person--and when he changed, she told him that she could no longer follow the path he had chosen. So Padme did choose, like Jane, to leave--except that it was already too late for Padme.

Is there a name for the heroines that accompany Byronic heroes? (No one describes Hamlet as a Byronic hero, right? But you can kind of put him in that light, at least in the context of what I'm here describing.) Nah, people are too concerned about Ophelia going mad and suicidal or Padme seeming weak or superficial (even though she isn't if you actually look at her character) or even with Jane's mistake being her going back to Rochester. But where is the focus on their positive characteristics in terms of these relationships? Just because something ends tragically, does that mean everything about it was tragic?

Ah, well, you know, I did write my thesis on Jane Eyre. Too bad I didn't have this character trio in mind at the time--I could write a paper on this concept, too. In fact, I'm partly tempted to: I just keep wanting to start all these different writing projects right now. And I miss Jane, my buddy I keep wanting to return to. Maybe if I'm not finding the time to reread Jane Eyre right now, I should at least find a spare four hours to watch the film version (2006 is the best).

Monday, April 29, 2019

When Did I Become a Victorian?

The nineteenth century has always been my era. Always. Even from before I knew what the nineteenth century meant in comparison to other centuries. Or even what a century really meant.

Why, though?

Maybe because my family watched a lot of nineteenth century period films while I was growing up. It wasn't something my parents grew up with--but together we all watched a lot of those family classics like Oliver Twist and A Little Princess (which, granted, is twentieth century, but in that early part of the new century) and Little Women. When my mom suggested I choose one of the American Girl books at the bookstore, I chose Samantha's book--again, Samantha is technically twentieth century, but she was designed as the Victorian American Girl. I watched Wishbone and many of the classics presented in there are Victorian. I discovered Little House on the Prairie on my own and then ended up watching the show, too. In the first place where I volunteered, I would dress up in Victorian garb--because I absolutely loved Victorian garb.

So I don't know. Was the Victorian era just familiar to me because I'd had it around? Or was I naturally gravitating toward it? In high school, I hoped to live in one of the Victorian houses in Prescott someday--and then I ended up giving that dream away to a character in my first published novel. In college, I was able to state that nineteenth century was my focus--which meant that I tried to take the best of the nineteenth century classes but also to make sure that I deliberately took classes outside of that focus, too, while I had the opportunity to dig into topics I had maybe less interest in.

And so when I was working on a project with my Shakespeare and Performance professor, I had already mentioned that I wasn't much of a fan of Shakespeare (and that that very reason was why I was in the class, to gain a greater appreciation of his work--something which I did in fact get, by the way). My professor, as a way of bringing in my personal interest, asked me what it was about the Victorian era that I liked. I had to define it for once. By this point, it wasn't about the dresses or the braided hair anymore. While I don't remember my full answer, I remember mentioning the nature thing and the highly emotional quality of Victorian literature. These qualities also refer to the Romantics (ah, John Keats, the subject of every lit student's literary crush), who are partly in that very beginning of the nineteenth century.

It's funny because Victorians are in some ways known for the exact opposite of those things. Strong expressions of emotion? What about the uptight, morally strict Victorian stereotype? Lots of use of nature? But isn't the Victorian era all about stuff--the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and eclectic designs and complicated architecture?

Ah, yet there it is, the core of the matter. An inside and an outside--that's the thing I love about the Victorian era. The Victorian on the outside is controlled and on the inside feels deeply. The era may be all about advances in technology but the art is all about symbolism in the natural world. Dualities, dualities.

I am a Victorian. Control and chaos both. Use the technology and those aspects of the modern world but also look to the natural world for beauty and inspiration. I've always been a Victorian.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Voice of Snow

I think I mentioned getting a record player a few months ago. It makes me feel cool because music truly does sound different--and now when I'm out doing my antiquing, I can take a look at the records, too, because they're now relevant to me.


Like the stack of Disney records I came across yesterday. Mary Poppins and Bambi and Peter Pan. I took the two I liked best, Snow White and Cinderella (if only they'd had my dearest, Sleeping Beauty). The latter mainly for "So This Is Love" and the former for "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "One Song." They are in fact more than just songs. Each record also comes with an illustrated storybook and the audio contains narration in addition to the songs. Kind of nice if you do want to put them on for children or even for yourself while doing housework or something. But a little inconvenient if what you want is just to listen to a specific song (there are no marks in the records themselves that show the breaks between songs like usual since the narration makes it all just one continuous audio piece).


It isn't too hard, though, to find each one since you do know at what point in the story the song you want comes in. And oh, is it lovely to hear these songs in this way. (The records, by the way, are from 1960.)


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs I have said many times is as near to perfect as is possible. Disney did something amazing with that one. The combination of Grimm's with the 1930's with Disney just hit it right. And so you put that dark and yet hopeful music and Snow's child voice into a record player and you just have something special. You're transported.

It's that Gothic element that makes Snow White so great--and makes me so biased in favor of it. Darkness and light, darkness and light, darkness and light. Darkness and light coming from my record player now.