Friday, August 16, 2019

Shattel: Kimbiri Peru 70%

Goodness, I didn't realize it had been over a year since I looked at that first bar from Shattell. Maybe it's just as well that they ended up spaced out: they're both fantastic bars of chocolate, each worthy of getting their own spotlight. This one has more of a flavor journey going on, though, a journey through different seasons, too.

I admit, I like this packaging less than with the other. Maybe simply because I prefer green to pink. The design still has the look of Peru, though, which is nice (reminder, Shattell is a Peruvian company). Both bars are made with chocolate grown in Peru, but this one is specifically from Kimbiri. I love that Shattell is showcasing their cocoa to the world. The chocolate's aroma here simply gives a deep chocolate scent. The layers don't really begin until you start tasting.

The start is dark and cloudy, like a storm is about to start brewing. The texture, like with the other bar, is almost dusty. Then everything smoothes out and the chocolate becomes a little sweeter. I begin to think that Shattell must use a less processed type of sugar than what American and European chocolate makers use; their sweetness tastes completely different and much nicer.

Some tang begins that's lightly floral. The flavor that I call silvery works in. Then some banana begins, nice and mellow. Here the weather changes and we're on a walk through a pretty little park on a sunny day. Picturesque and cute, like in a movie. The banana flavor strengthens. As the chocolate melts, it leaves a delightfully full and yet light aftertaste.

I love a good flavor journey. I used to always make comparisons between the flavor of chocolate and the weather (I love talking about the weather, by the way--it isn't small talk to me, it's intense talk). Then I stopped. Maybe I got stagnant creatively (or didn't want either to just keep repeating myself or to force it); maybe I stopped tasting as much inspiring chocolate. So its nice to start again.

I'm also all about the metaphors. This chocolate bar is hope. The sun breaks through the clouds.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Yellow Flowers

You know, I don't believe that life is all about happiness. Happiness is in its essence a shallow thing; there are other things that matter more. (Joy is separate from happiness, but that's a whole other conversation.) However, happiness does have its role in life.

Sometimes rediscovering yourself involves rediscovering happiness.

This morning I had a grand time at one of my volunteer places, then I went on an errand or two. And I picked up flowers for myself. I'd never done that before. You hear people talking about it and you know something? It's a powerful thing, to buy flowers for yourself.

If another person gives you flowers, it's because they value you. Maybe you achieved something (graduation or a performance or an award). Maybe it's your birthday and they're showing they appreciate your existence. Maybe they're your significant other saying they love you. So when you give yourself flowers, it's telling yourself that you value yourself.

I'm also not into the whole self-centered thing. Sure, be empowered, but don't just think about you. No, you are not the whole world. But the way to be a significant part of the place you live in is to first value yourself. Only then can you be there for others.

I bought myself flowers today. I chose yellow because I like yellow; yellow flowers are feminine without being girly. I chose Peruvian lilies because they look like wildflowers. These flowers look like warm weather and sunshine and smiles. In my living room, they bring life and . . . happiness.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Changing Time

Do you ever get curious what movies you watched as a child would be like if you saw them again as an adult?

The 2002 version of The Time Machine stayed in my memory in a way that I thought was overall vague but specific in certain points. When I watched it again, I found that I did remember just about the whole movie--it's just that it's kind of a succinct movie, so there isn't much to remember. I just thought that there must have been more.

I must have been around eleven when I saw it that first time around. It was a little more . . . suspenseful at eleven. Now, I was struck mostly by how much it is not the H.G. Wells story. I mean, that's one of those stories that isn't really a story but more of a socio-political commentary and discussion, so naturally any movie versions are going to veer sharply away. But this one is so far away that it's almost surprising it even has the same name; it's its own thing.

It's funny, I remembered pretty much the whole plot from the first time around, even down to specific scenes. But I'd forgotten the theme--if indeed I even got it back then. Funny how something so simply might not necessarily stand out when you're young.

So in this movie, this man builds the time machine so that he can go back and prevent his fiancee from dying. But she just dies in a different way. So he can change the way she dies but not the fact that she dies. He ends up in the future instead and at the end, he finds a way to change the future using his time machine in a non-traditional way. The theme, then, is that the past is over and you must move forward from it in what way you can--and it's the future that you have the power to influence. A simple theme, to be sure, and yet that makes it no less powerful.

What do you regret about the past? The past can't change, no matter how much we would like it to. The future, though, that's all open. If you want better, make the future better.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ritual Chocolate: Peru Maranon 75%

Some chocolates I'm surprised that I have never had before. Ritual Chocolates looks familiar in some way and yet this appears to be my first encounter with them. Perhaps they just remind me of Original Beans. The color scheme of matte purple with silver accents and the style that straddles the line between classy and trendy very much puts in mind Original Beans from back when.

This is one of those card boxes that opens up in a unique way and showcases some info about the chocolate on the inside. Ritual Chocolates is based out of Utah, but the Nacional cocoa they've used for this bar comes from the Maranon River valley in Peru. Tearing open the sealed package inside releases a strong chocolate scent, what I want to call a very blended scent. The type of scent in which you can already imagine that the texture is going to be extremely smooth, like it's been conched for a long time. Mainly a sweet scent if you had to call it something, but with a hint of bitterness when you breathe in deeply.

On the tongue, a zing develops that is a flavor more than it is bitterness but is in actuality bitterness, set against a bed of sweet-edged chocolate. So it's a full taste experience, the tang with the sweet to form the chocolate flavor. The tasting notes are floral, herbal, toasted peanuts, and stone fruit. I considered calling the chocolate smoky but wasn't sure if that was quite right. And I'd wanted to say tangy but thought that it wasn't fruity or citrusy. So yeah, those notes sound about right.

The chocolate leaves an almost bitter aftertaste. That is, it isn't exactly bitter but neither is it that rich, red aftertaste that chocolate sometimes gives. This is loftier.

So there is plenty of flavor development going on here, plenty that they have coaxed out of the cocoa beans. Which is wonderful: it's been a while since I've had chocolate like this. Reminds me of how I keep posting about Star Wars books, so I was thrilled to read a Willa Cather book for a change (a change, no less, to more the type of thing I used to solely read). I've reviewed some good chocolate lately, but I've also been looking at plenty of mediocre or middle range quality level chocolate. So it's nice to get a reminder of the other type of chocolate, artisan chocolate.

Unfortunately, this chocolate was a gift from someone who'd been traveling out of state. That means I'm unlikely to come across more Ritual Chocolate anytime soon. If I ever do, though, I'll definitely want to try some more of their chocolate.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Agnes Pelton

A couple of years back, a visit to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe left me refreshed and free, inspired by the concept of her artistic vision. Now when I go to the Phoenix Art Museum, I nod to any Georgia O'Keefe, saying, hey, I know you, and I also pause over the Agnes Pelton they have (it's usually next to the Georgia O'Keefe), thinking, hmm, that's a similar style, that abstract style that I can get into. I don't generally like the modern art much and abstract usually isn't my style, except when it's done in this certain way. Makes sense, too, I suppose, given that this was "modern" many decades ago, and so of course it would be quite a different style from what is modern today.

Now they have an Agnes Pelton exhibit going on at the Phoenix Art Museum--in fact, it's almost over, I've just been very bad and only just made it over to see it. Very bad considering that I was quite excited for it.

Again, this is abstract that I can get into. Such use of color and shape. Visuals become emotions. Aesthetics is not disregarded. Talent, too. Delicate shading here versus stark contrast between colors there. Content, as well, was something I favored. The desert makes a beautiful inspiration for art.

As some of the commentary mentioned, as well, there is an almost sci-fi quality to some of Pelton's work. It reminded me of some of Tolkien's art or of the illustrations that have been done for C.S. Lewis's The Space Trilogy. That very natural world and yet very other land look. So I could just keep staring at some of these paintings--they were inspiring and thought-provoking. Some, though, maybe took that edge a little too far for my interests. Pelton had an interest in thoughts and beliefs that would lead in to the New Age category and you can see it in her painting. A couple of her pieces in particular would fit right in at a couple of spots in Sedona. So it was interesting to observe that line: one one side of it I was enthralled and just right on the other I was removed.

It's funny the things that inspire us. I felt enriched from viewing Pelton's work--and yet it is only more recently that her work has been receiving wider recognition. There are many artists like that, aren't there? Sometimes the most famous artists are famous because they resonate on a personal level with so many people. But sometimes you won't overly connect with the work of a famous artist and instead you'll find a lesser known one who inspires you. That's why art is something you can continue to delve into your whole life long--there will always be new things to discover. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Glimpse of Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey, kind of like Willa Cather, is one of those authors I've been meaning to get to. There are always so many things to read that sometimes it just takes a while to get to authors you feel like you ought to have read years ago.

As I've been referencing lately the difficulty with having time to sit down and read a book, now seems a great time to bring up poetry. I still haven't read any Abbey books, but now I've read some of his poetry. Poetry is fantastic for the modern reader. Only have two minutes? Perfect; that's enough time for one poem. Have ten? A few poems, then. An hour or two? Hey, you just might make it through the whole volume. You're still getting quality content, just in a quicker-to-read format.

Now, as far as Abbey's poetry, Earth Apples was published posthumously. In his introduction, David Petersen discusses the fact that Abbey didn't consider them great works and didn't try to make them great works--and also that they don't need to be in order to have relevance. My own experience reading them is evidence of that: I haven't, as I've mentioned, read any of Abbey's books yet, but from reading these poems, I have a sense of what type of writer he was. The gist of his style and focus, as it were. I get the idea that I am going to be of two minds about his writing when I finally get to his books. Some of this I much enjoyed, some just didn't resonate with me, and some took the artistic approach that I prefer to leave unexplored.

From the writer's or research perspective, this book is quite fascinating. I don't write poetry, but I do sometimes free write in verse (that's why my latest book does contain some verse). I started doing that in middle school. Then I stopped because I saw that it wasn't poetry and it wasn't good and therefore I thought that it was bad. But I've started it up again more recently because sometimes that's just the way the words want to hit the page. There are many types of writing. And sometimes the writing that you need to do in order to make other, more planned, more perfected writing is simply a collection of thoughts in verse.

Have you ever read the Brontes' poetry? They become known as novelists. Read their poetry and you'll see why. They were not Keats. And yet they're not bad reads and there are some that are quite good and reading them gives this sense of who they each were as writers. You can see a person's style and focus based on how they put together verse.

So let's all read more poetry, shall we? I have a book of John Donne waiting for me and I am still wanting to pick up more Lang Leav one of these days.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Print Copies & Digitals Arrive

The reality of a writer's life: formatting your manuscript for the digital edition while making dinner, getting the email that the first step of the approval process for that edition is underway while on lunch at work, coming home from work to a package containing the new batch of printed copies of your latest book, blogging about your book while making dinner after work. Yeah, life goes on--you just have to fit the writing in between it all. The food, too, always fit in the food.

I got my proof copy of my latest book, Silence and Boldness, in the mail a couple weeks ago. But that was kind of just to make sure it looked alright; the big batch of them is where the excitement begins.

Even though I didn't really write this particular book to try and turn out profit (my plan is to mainly give it away) (not, of course, to imply that I wouldn't like to turn a profit, just that that isn't my goal with this one), it's still fun to set out several copies of a book with your name on it and just enjoy the moment. I give you a glimpse at my desk, too, for the fun of it.

For all you ebook readers out there, the digital edition is now available from Lulu. It will be on all the other major ebook sites later, but you can get it there right now (the digital is $2.99). And paperback and hardcover copies of both my books are still currently 30% off, if you're interested.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What's Next for the Star Wars Books?

I only started reading Star Wars books around the time that they came up with the whole canon and expanded universe concept (that is, books written before the Disney takeover, minus the movie novelizations, are no longer considered canon). So I figured I would read all the new books coming out while the new movies are coming out and then after that I'd be more selective and only read the ones that sounded interesting to me . . . and maybe then I'd also double back and read some of the EU books (I mean, I have read a couple, but there are plenty more).

What does that mean now, though? The new trilogy is almost over but Disney will still be making more Star Wars content. So do I keep reading all the new Star Wars books? I don't know. I enjoy them, but I'm also getting a little tired of them. Books like Ahsoka or Master and Apprentice I've much liked, but books like Alphabet Squadron take a little more effort from me. I'm just not as interested in the military side or the political side that some of the books take. I'm not saying that Star Wars books shouldn't cover a variety of subjects and angles; I'm just saying that some of those appeal to me more or less than others.

I did get into Alphabet Squadron, but it took me a while. And if I were in the picking and choosing phase, I probably would have skipped this one (well, except for the fact that I knew Hera was in it, which was exciting to imagine, though she didn't end up having too big of a role, anyway). This coming after how refreshing it was to read Willa Cather last month or whenever that was. I'm realizing that the bulk of what I have been reading has been Star Wars books. I like Star Wars books, but I don't like them enough that they should be that big of a percentage of what I'm reading.

The reality is, I'm just not reading that much these days. There's only so much time to sit down with a book, right? So if I'm trying to keep up with all the Star Wars books as they're released, I'm not getting to other things I might want to read, as well. So that's my motivation. If I were still twelve years old, spending every summer reading all day long, then sure, I could read all the Star Wars books new and old and still get through plenty of other content, as well. But I'm not, and I'm realizing that the reason I don't always carve out as much time for reading is that I don't always get as much out of it as I used to. So I need to make sure I'm working in content that excites me.

I'll probably still read all the new Star Wars releases for the year . . . and probably most of them after that, too. But I'm at the point now where if they come up with another Battlefront book, I'll feel comfortable skipping it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

My New Book: Silence and Boldness

I had something I needed to do, something I needed to say. I worried that it wasn't significant enough to bother about. I worried that it wasn't enough to make a book out of. I worried that I didn't even know how to go about editing something like this.

But ultimately I knew that what was most important was simply getting it out. It is my second book, which is not my second novel (the novel remains a work in progress) as I thought it would be. Yet here it is. Ready for it?

From the back cover: 

In this fallen world, sometimes darkness is all we can see. But there is more. The light of our Creator and the beauty of his Creation are enough to tear us out of our chaos. Here is the story of stepping forward and allowing God to give strength and hope. Centering all thoughts on him brings the great freedom we crave. Seeing his love provides context for all that life brings. Here is the story of how I found both silence and boldness, each with their place in my life.

It will be available at all the major online retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon in a few weeks (and I should be getting the digital edition out soon, too), but you can already get a copy from this link. To celebrate the release, it's at 30% off right now (hardcover and paperback copies of my novel, Black Tree, are 30% off right now, too, if you'd like to get both).

And even though this is a different type of book, still it's exciting to now have two in print books of mine:

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ethereal: Dark Chocolate Topped with Apricots, Honey, Marigold Petals, Bee Pollen

A pretty summery chocolate is on the table today. It is Dark Chocolate Topped with Apricots, Honey, Marigold Petals, and Bee Pollen by Ethereal Craft Chocolate. I would call this part of the emerging chocolate scene: it has that boutique gift shop look to it and yet it is also called bean to bar, organic, and ethically sourced (and since I've been on the soapbox so often lately, I'll also mention that chocolate like this can [though of course isn't necessarily] in fact be more ethical than chocolate that has a certified fair trade label). Cute but with some substance?

The pretty bee and honeycomb paper is quite thick and slightly textured. The chocolate bar, too, has a lovely, curvy design to the mold on one side and then all of the flowers and fruit on the other side (with a chocolate like this, you can't really call the toppings side the back). All of the toppings mean that this is essentially chocolate bark.

Being that those toppings are mainly dry, they don't get across in the aroma; that simply consists of semisweet chocolate. Trying the chocolate first smooth side down reveals that same semisweet chocolate flavor akin to Ghirardelli chocolate. I thought about what other flavors I was supposed to be picking up--there was perhaps something floral? Ah, yes, that would be the marigold petals. Interesting choice: usually rose, violet, and lavender are the standards for chocolate, so it's nice to see another flower.

Trying topping side down next brought in some texture, though at first I didn't taste anything more. Then as I settled into something crumbly, I found sweetness. That would be the honey. The ingredients list this as honey granules, which are made with cane sugar and honey. While under other circumstances it would be undesirable to mix honey and sugar, in this case the sugar gives the honey texture so that it can be a topping of its own instead of just something mixed into the chocolate. I mean, bee pollen has some honey flavor, too, but adding in the honey granules probably gives more of a typically-expected honey taste.

Moving inward, I came to the apricot. I suppose I never really eat dried apricot, so I haven't much to compare this one to. Yet it was excellent, nice and sweet. The size is big enough to taste and also not so big as to interfere.

I do have one little note, though. I didn't get a picture because I didn't notice it until later, but one side of the bar was half the thickness of the other side. Given that I'm sure that isn't intentional, I just had to give it a little mention. It doesn't negatively impact the chocolate: I enjoyed the thin side just as much as the thick side. It's just, as I mentioned, a note.

Overall, it's a lovely bar, one I'm enjoyed much more than I'd expected to. Sometimes with the pretty, boutique gift shop chocolate bars, I expect them to just look nice and sound nice but to not delivery much. Not the case here. This chocolate delivers exactly what's promised: dark chocolate with pretty, summery toppings.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"Beauty Is Truth"

Today is all about "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats. Ha, ha, you know what kind of mood I'm in when I'm bringing out John Keats, the one who whispers intoxicatingly beautiful poetry in the ears of writers and lit students.

I didn't get this poem the first time I read it because I didn't know the context. I didn't know anything about Keats or the Romantics. So it was just a guy reflecting on the imagery on a Grecian urn. And that infamous line at the end ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty") I thought was a comment about aesthetics. But the Romantics were not the Aesthetes and John Keats was not Oscar Wilde. Yet even after I learned about context and Keats's commentary and theories on art, this poem remained less interesting to me than pieces like "Ode on Melancholy" or "Ode to a Nightingale" or "Bright Star." I used to keep "Bright Star" written out above my desk . . . maybe I'll do that again.

Now, though, I have finally felt "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In a single poem, Keats contains the pain of life and also its opposite. Would you call that opposite pleasure? No, not quite right. Beauty, yes, truth, yes, those words work.

It can seem as though the narrator is describing aesthetic beauty because he is describing the visuals that are on the urn. In fact, though, he describes things felt, most notably of course the love between the lovers. So when he speaks of beauty, he isn't just describing the aesthetics that are portrayed by the urn: he is describing the sentiments that the visuals express. That is the beauty.

And when the heart cries and the soul feels like it is dying, there is that beauty still to remember. The beauty that was, every moment or feeling that was enjoyed, is there in memory and in truth. It once was and still is. It was beautiful, that is true. Beauty is truth, truth beauty. All we can see in this life is what is here and that is enough. Any glimpse we have is enough.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Surprise? Writing Update

Surprise, I have a short writing project that'll be coming this month. More on that to follow. I only bring it up now not to tease you on it but to describe the effect its completion has had on me. Even though I wrote the first words of what will be my second novel (that is, not the short project coming up) four years ago, I haven't added to it at all in a year. I couldn't.

I had this other thing I needed to do first--and it wasn't until I got around to that one that I could go back to the novel. So today I did it, I went back to it. I should've known writer's mood was brewing when I looked to the refrigerator for a pickle and pickle juice (what? I haven't had pickle juice in years) and then to the freezer for ice cream that had been in there so long I had to scrape the ice off the top (I'm not an ice cream person). (And no, I'm not pregnant. That is not the only reason to feel like eating weird things. Sheesh.) Soon instead of the usual Spotify I've been relying on for music, I turned on Lacey Sturm and Flyleaf loud on my headphones and started free writing all over the floor.

My free writing is weird. That's the definition of free writing, though, isn't it? Just words that pop onto the page, no coherence. And yes, being on the floor is essential to the process. How anyone can do worthwhile writing in a chair I don't know. (No offense to the I'm sure many writers who write from chairs; it's just a joke.) My thoughts started turning to the setting of that long-abandoned book. So I traded out my free write notebook for the manuscript notebook. And I brought out the candy; candy is also essential to serious writing.

It's so hilarious looking at passages that I wrote years ago. So many of them seem like I wrote them this year. Looking at them, I literally can't believe that I didn't write them this year except for the fact that I know I didn't and even if I didn't, they have the dates written on them. (Putting dates on all your writing is something I highly recommend.) Maybe this is also why I had to leave this piece sitting for so long. Partly because I needed to get around to that other project, but also because I needed to catch up to a certain strain of thought that I was writing before I was even aware of it.

Anyways. I feel like I'm back in time, back to when I was writing full time on my first novel. I mean, I won't be writing full time on this one, but the act of being with it reminds me of that time.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Chocolita: Lavender Dreamline 78%

I admit, I tend to just overlook all the Sedona chocolate. Even though the Scottsdale chocolate is exciting, the Sedona chocolate, like Sedona itself, is in its own zone. For anyone unfamiliar with Sedona (which is a beautiful tourist destination of Red Rocks), the town is also known for New Age culture. So most of the chocolate out of Sedona is raw--and I always hesitate around raw chocolate. Of course, none of it is technically completely raw: it's just heated, during production, to a lower temperature than most chocolate. So there is something inherently false-sounding to the concept of raw, modern-style chocolate--and it's something that I personally find unnecessary. With all that being said, though, let's just take a look at the chocolate itself.

On the inside of the wrapper for this Chocolatita bar, there is an explanation about bringing back chocolate as a superfood rather than junk food. That I am absolutely all for: if you're going to add junk to chocolate, don't even bother using chocolate, right?

The wrapper opens up to a strong lavender aroma, all minty and peppery. For this is, after all, the Lavender Dreamline 78%. The Mayan goddess Ixcacau (the goddess of chocolate) who is pictured on the outside also adorns the chocolate squares. Fitting and very Sedona. Flip the bar over and you'll see sprinkled lavender.

Texture-wise, the chocolate feels a little stiff, like it's almost getting a little old. It's less inclined to melt in your mouth, so it works better if you help it out a bit with some munching. I have had coarser raw chocolate before, though, so I would guess that this one was heated to a higher temperature than some. The texture difference from standard chocolate isn't super noticeable, though; again, it's mostly as if the chocolate is just a tad old.

Mainly it all tastes of springy lavender. The lavender is the strongest flavor, so I can't get too many details on the chocolate by itself. Mainly it seems like a solid and decent 78% chocolate; I'm tasting neither sweetness nor bitterness. Now, I didn't look at the ingredients list because I imagined that there probably would be some secrets in there and I didn't want to imagine to myself that I could taste any of those secrets when I actually couldn't. I didn't want the mere suggestion to make me say that there was a strange, indefinable taste in there. The secrets are coconut palm sugar (as opposed to cane sugar), vanilla (just a standard ingredient, but I thought I'd mention it while I'm at it), sea salt, mugwort (which is supposed to help fight fatigue), and gotu kola (which is a plant that has various uses). I just tasted lavender, so if you would like all of this in your chocolate, well, it didn't have any adverse effects on flavor.

So the whole raw chocolate topic aside, I do appreciate the use of better quality ingredients. This chocolate is also organic and fair trade. The label says that it's heirloom cacao; it would be nice to also know the specific type of cocoa beans. As a lavender chocolate, it's nice.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Late Summer

Summer so far has been more like summer in the Verde Valley (about an hour and a half north of the greater Phoenix area) than in the Valley of the Sun. We barely started reaching 100 degrees in June rather than May. Now we're barely inching towards 110 as July is settling in. So there has still been a big enough difference between the highs and lows that there are parts of the day in which it is tolerable to be outdoors. It's the type of thing you don't want to complain about, but it's also so unusual that you have to comment on it.

So I've been able to visit the Desert Botanical Garden more than I usually do during summer. Sometimes I'll go months without visiting because even after sunset it's just too hot to want to be outside. Not so this year. This year I've been going in late morning, when it's hot but still under 100, which is tolerable. I go for a quick little walk to get some sun and some nature.

I'm seeing certain plants in bloom that I tend to miss just because I don't usually see them at this time of year.

And I'm getting the garden almost to myself. Only a few other people want to be there during summer, so I get the peace of solitude. The garden becomes a place for contemplation, a place where thoughts run through a stream of their own power.

Sometimes they're watering the plants and I can smell the wet desert. Monsoon season will be coming soon and there will be even more wet desert scent around. The smell of the wet desert is one of the most nostalgic scents, as is the scent of desert plants baked by the heat of the sun.

This is the land where my child's imagination ran free.

And so there is something wondrously enticing about an Arizona summer, especially one that is more Verde Valley than Valley of the Sun. My heart is home.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Mulan Trailer Reaction

Mulan would seem to lend itself well to live action. The sequences that are exciting in the animated film are full of pacing and, well, action that would translate well into live action. The visuals and plot are reliant mainly on people and their reactions (as opposed to, say, dancing and furry woodland creatures). And the story and themes are also quite adult. So this remake has a chance to be a gem.

The words that play over the scenes in the trailer reminded me of the "Be a Man" sequence in the original. Shang is trying to train his men, telling them they're a bunch of sissies and girls if they can't keep up. And since Mulan is struggling, at first she thinks he's right: she is literally a girl and she can't do this. But then she says, no, I have to do this, so she is able to do it no matter that she is a woman--as a woman, she is still able to "man up."

Similarly, in the trailer, you have this dialogue about how to be a proper woman and wife playing along with images of Mulan training and fighting in battle. The very traits that would seem to "keep a woman in her place" or hold Mulan back from taking a soldier's role are the very traits that help her to become a good soldier: mainly, discipline. This also pairs nicely with Mulan's words at her family's table. She tells them that she will bring the family honor. We as the audience know that she will bring them honor, though not in the way that they expect: it will be through her service in war, not through marriage. So it looks like this movie will get the theme across nicely.

Word is that the love story is out, right? That does make me a little sad, since I quite like the love story in Mulan. It's like the one in Divergent. That isn't the main part of the story, though, so it can be taken out. I'm curious, though, about Mulan's friendship with her fellow soldiers. None of that was shown in the trailer (since it was, after all, just a teaser), so I'll look forward to seeing how that plays out. That camaraderie is what helps Mulan feel like she has found a place and a role; she isn't an isolated, lone figure.

Anyway, everything looks good so far, and I certainly hope so, because this movie has so much going for it. Handled well, it can be both amazing and well-timed.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sprouts: Dark Chocolate 72%

The companion to the Sprouts store-brand Milk Chocolate from last week is their Dark Chocolate 72%. It comes along with the same generic packaging. Maybe it's my bias against red, but this one is even less successful than the Milk Chocolate's look. The Christmas-reminiscent red and green also remind me of a hotel--perhaps specifically the hotel in Home Alone 2. There is a certain niceness to red and green and gold, but it only goes so far. Mainly it's just generic (inevitably, though, right, for the store-brand?).

The bar inside still comes with that pleasant starburst design, though. I found the aroma less than enticing, indicating a sweetness level just a touch away from confection dark chocolate. I can eat sweet milk chocolate because sweetness is part of the nature of milk chocolate (though there is of course also such a thing as fantastic artisan milk chocolate), but sweet dark chocolate turns me away.

In reality, though, this chocolate was fine. It works right away into a bittersweet flavor that is not entirely unlike Ghirardelli. Not that Ghirardelli is on the top tier of the chocolate world, but they're a steady standard with mass appeal. So mainly the chocolate is on the sweeter side but with that sense of bitterness to it that is still different from the bitterness that you would find in an artisan chocolate. It has that silky texture that, if just a little deeper, would be too smooth. The chocolate melts away with that warm, red, brownie taste and just a mild touch of richness.

So better than I thought it would be. Generic and nice. Mass appeal over uniqueness and character. Like with Ghirardelli, it would be great for using as chocolate chips. My recommendations aren't particularly hearty; however, if this were a model for generic, store-brand chocolate, then the chocolate world would definitely be coming into a better place. This is what the starting point for dark chocolate ought to be, with everything else going up from here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ophelia Speaks

In May, I wrote that post about the connections between Ophelia, Padme, and Jane (Eyre). I talked about the name Byronic hero and asked what we call the heroines that accompany such characters. Like I mentioned there, I don't think anyone refers to Hamlet as a Byronic hero, but he does have some of the traits that go along with such a figure.

Then I saw the trailer for Ophelia, which is Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective, and it was like someone else saw what I wanted and had made it. I absolutely couldn't wait for this random film that probably still no one else has even heard of. It came out with a limited release on Friday. It was only playing in one theatre in the greater Phoenix area and only at one time during the day. I was one of only five people in the theatre.

No matter, though: it was like someone had taken my soul and put it on the screen.

I was throughly enraptured by this film. That doesn't mean that it was flawless, but what film is? I didn't particularly like the narration that the movie begins with, but when I realized at the end that it's based on a book, that made more sense. This wasn't an original story; it was a book to movie adaptation. So there is a certain condensing that takes place in certain parts rather than everything being created for this medium (film) from the beginning. So that's why we'll start with narration of Ophelia telling rather than showing.

Because this story is Hamlet but not Hamlet, it does not cover the same length of time and it does not cover the same scenes. Some scenes are the same; some are not. Some scenes are missing; some are there. Some lines are there; some are not. Some are changed; some stay the same. The lines that are added, though, all give the same feeling, all fit the same fabric.

We see Ophelia, her intelligence and her wit and her imagination and her passion--the things that make her a woman that Hamlet would fall in love with.

This movie is an indulgence, and you must see it that way or you will miss the whole point of it.

I wasn't sure how I felt about the decision to make Hamlet and Ophelia's madness feigned. This is one of the things in the play that can be acted out in various ways. Either Hamlet is mad or a little mad or he's just pretending or he's doing both, etc. Here both he and Ophelia feign madness. It makes sense for the story and it fit and flowed well, but here's why I questioned the artistic choice. I realized that I don't think Hamlet and Ophelia were feigning madness. Maybe they weren't full out, put them in a psychotic hold out of control, but I like to think that they were a little . . . off. Because so many of us are. I don't want to explain away something that is part of who we are as people because I want to love us as we are.

(And here there will be some spoilers, if anyone cares about that.)

However. Remember what I said about this movie being an indulgence? It's a fantasy; it's what we want, not what's true. Everything is beautiful. So we watch Hamlet and Ophelia pretending they're mad even though we know that they are struggling and some of it is actually real. We watch Hamlet marry Ophelia even though we know that he really didn't. We watch Ophelia live even though we know that she didn't. We watch her with his child even though we know she didn't have his child. We listen to her story even though we know she never got to tell her story. We watch what we want to watch to see something beautiful.

Ophelia, the woman who loved and was loved by Hamlet. Ophelia, who drowned in her watery grave, lived and was happy simply to have once been loved. We see her dissolve her pain and her reality and we believe that we can dissolve ours, too.

There is more to talk about, especially the theme of identity. What they did with Gertrude and Claudius. The other ladies in waiting. Etc. Plenty to talk about. I wish I could hear what the literature professors are saying about this movie, not what the movie critics are saying. (And I don't usually take this angle, but might I point out that most movie critics are men, aren't they? So if this movie isn't getting stellar reviews, hey, I think that just goes to say that it's more a movie for women than men, if it's going to lean one way or the other.) But what resonated most with me was that theme of the voice that I want Ophelia to have.

I asked for focus on these heroines--and I got it. Ophelia spoke. Ophelia declared her identity and her love for Hamlet, her never-ending love for him. That quote keeps running through my head: "Doubt that the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love." It's like this chant of victory. Just because she lost Hamlet doesn't mean Ophelia was wrong to love him and doesn't mean she can't treasure her memories of him and doesn't mean she can't continue to live a happy life after he is gone from it.

Doubt that the sun doth move . . . but never doubt I love. Never doubt I love.

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Lost Lady

I don't even know how to speak on this book. Once I would have had a literary approach, but this is a casual blog, not a research paper, and I really haven't been emphasizing the literary approach much. I could take a personal approach, but I don't talk much personal on here.

I keep collecting Willa Cather books without reading any. I feel like I should like her, which is why I keep buying her books. A Lost Lady might have been a strange starting place since I get the sense that it's a little different from her other works. However, the title called to me when I looked to my shelves for my next read.

I also get the sense that I would not have cared for this book if I had read it a few years ago, or maybe even a few months ago. But a few months can make a great difference, eh? The title refers to Mrs. Forrester and so we suppose that the book is all about her, but it is just as much about Neil, whose perspective we are reading, and Captain Forrester. For Neil, it is all about what he saw (and didn't see) in the Forresters--and for the Captain, it is about what his wife was to him and what he was to her.

(This is all nonsense, trying to do a brief and casual blog post on this book. I'm not going to have the chance to actually talk about anything.)

There is something so bittersweet in these pages. Cather's simple writing style is characteristic of that early twentieth century time, yet I feel more drawn to it than I normally do to writing of that era. There is something almost like The Great Gatsby in here, something of that longing to see a particular concept within a person, something about the creation of concepts and dreams within a person's face. Something about changing times--and people that will always remain people even when everything about people changes.

This book is like a poem, a piece of an image that speaks volumes of thought. I am quite glad I didn't read it before because I think that I would have just dismissed it with a lack of interest before. Now I find it stirring as it brings up thought after thought.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sprouts: Milk Chocolate

Let me start off by saying that I highly recommend reading this article that I came across recently. It addresses what people mean when we talk about fair trade chocolate, both the important need for it and the problems that still persist even with chocolate that does have a fair trade label. I've been experiencing slight burn-out from chocolate reviewing in the past few months. I'm not as interested in trying new chocolate and I feel like I've already said what I have to say. And it's, frankly, difficult in between all the rest of a regular life to have time to find new chocolate and review that chocolate. It partly takes away my enjoyment of chocolate. And I also question why I am consuming chocolate with such regularity as one new product a week when part of my philosophy around pursuing fair trade chocolate would also be to consume less cocoa.

So if I have been reviewing less chocolate lately, partly it's because life gets busy but it is also for all of these reasons. Reading that article only further reinforced all of these thoughts.

However, chocolate reviewing is so much a part of what I do after a whole decade of it. So I'm continuing on with it. Maybe I'll go down to a review every other week; maybe I'll keep it at once a week. We'll see. Either way, I'm going to try and stop seeing it as a pressure and simply as a hobby, one that I pursue while sticking to my self-imposed rules a little better than I have been doing of late.

The next two bars I'll be reviewing come from Sprouts Farmers Market. I don't overly care for Sprouts (Natural Grocers is my store of choice). It's like a bigger Trader Joe's (I do shop a little there, too, and it used to be my main store, but now it isn't quite what I want); they have some good things, but also some things that just aren't quite what I seek. That being said, they do have enough values that their store brand chocolate is organic and fair trade. I don't know for how long they've had store brand chocolate since I don't shop there often enough to know, but this was the first time I had seen it.

As you'll know if you've read that article (or if you were already familiar with the fair trade system), having a fair trade label, well, sometimes it only means so much. But I still pursue the labels (or simply information about the specific cocoa farms and working with the farmers and all of that) because it's at least some progress and effort.

The blue packing is pretty and basic at the same time, with a traditional look that could be in either a good way or a bad way. I'm not sure which. It reminds me of dish soap and Andes mints. The chocolate is quite pretty, though, with starbursts on the light brown squares.

Perhaps disappointingly, the aroma is not entirely unlike Hershey's. That buttery, milky, sweet scent. But is that truly a bad thing? Look at how much Hershey's chocolate sells; people like it. So why wouldn't that be a style for a store brand to emulate?

Moving into taste, though, the chocolate is a little different from Hershey's. It's very Swiss. Yes, it has that intense creaminess and milkiness, but it also has a hit of rich cocoa that Hershey's does not offer but that Swiss milk chocolate tends to. There is no vanilla in here, which is surprising for store brand chocolate, and yet there is a deep taste as of vanilla.

It isn't one to wow the palate, but it's a nice, creamy milk chocolate for when you want milk chocolate. As more chocolate is coming with some kind of fair trade label, such chocolate is becoming more readily available and so the range of things that I can review is in fact increasing. So I'm still finding things to review even as I miss out on the artisan chocolates. It's nice but also sad: I'm not having as much of that artisan chocolate and while the system is improving, it's only improving slightly and yet in such a way that we're imaging the problems are all fixed when they're not.

So that's where I am right now when it comes to chocolate--and this bar was probably the perfect way of illustrating to you where my headspace is right now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Toy Story 4 and the Children Who Are Now Adults

We all know that Toy Story is as much for adults as it is for children--if not more so. Any good children's story should be enjoyable for adults, as well, but there is something extra to that when it comes to Toy Story. That became evident when Toy Story 3 came out. That movie showed Andy going off to college just as the people who had been children when the first movie came out were doing by this point.

And that was the end of it, right? The going and away and leaving behind childhood theme (that is also addressed in Winnie the Pooh when Christopher Robin explains to Pooh that he is going to school) was covered and they put in Bonnie to show childhood still existing and continuing on even when one particular child is no longer a child. So how do you move on from that without also undoing everything that has already been done?

Well, by going back to the same concept of the audience growing up. The children who were going off to college are now out of college. Many of them are getting married and starting families of their own--or otherwise setting off on new adventures, new stages of life. The past is still important, but it's the past and not the present. (And yes, there are probably spoilers in here.)

That explains the beginning of the movie. I'm not usually one to pick on plot points, but I did find the kindergarten orientation odd (is that a thing now? I guess I wouldn't know; it wasn't when I went to school) and it also didn't make sense for Bonnie to be so hesitant and shy and scared about going to school. She's used to hanging around the daycare where her mom works. Isn't she usually portrayed as a happy and social child for her to suddenly be the shy one alone in the corner? The reason, though, that she is portrayed this way is because it speaks to those early traumas. Trauma may be too strong of a word--or maybe not. Those memories that we hold from when we were very young and we know that we wouldn't act the same way now but we remember how we felt then and it hurt and it was hard and we still carry it with us. A story like this is most certainly created for the adults watching who have memories like this from years ago.

And the return of Bo and her story with Woody is the story of the fantasy that the adults who are now settling down want to live out, too. Woody thinks he has lost his purpose, but what he has really lost is the feeling of being cared for. He and Bo care for each other and that's why he can choose to go on new life adventures with her. It isn't that he stopped caring about the rest of the crew; it's just that their time together had ended. And Woody was Andy's favorite toy, not Bonnie's. So that wasn't his place; he had the freedom to go after that new stage in life. And this time he got to choose the stage. As an owned toy, he was like a child belonging to a parent and doing what the parent asks of them. As an unowned toy, he is like an adult being the one deciding to do what he has learned from his "parent."

Now about the antique store. As someone who shops at antique stores (frankly, you find better quality and better prices than at new stores--and I am a Victorian, too, so there's that), I did nitpick here, too. Toys don't sell? That's not true; they're a market in their own right--that was just what they needed to say for the story. And what's with grandma telling Harmony she can have all the toys from the store? In most cases, antique stores have vendors who sell their items in their section of the store. So those aren't the shopkeepers products; they're the vendors'. I don't think the vendors would be very happy to know that she's just giving away their investments.

Anyway. That aside, antique stores of course have a great symbolic quality. Has anyone else read Hittie: Her First Hundred Years? It's about a doll in an antique store writing down her story. So Bo and Gabby reminded me of her. That concept of either sitting on the shelf or living life played out well, as did Gabby's renewal. We're all broken--which is why it's sometimes our very brokenness that links us to someone else and helps us to start finding some healing.

So Toy Story 4 took on all of these adult themes about brokenness, purpose, personal choices, interconnectivity, and the different stages of life. It did it all in a simple and light way that was fun even while it was deep. Something for the children and for the adults. I don't know if this one will have great re-watchability, but maybe that doesn't matter. It created that stirring portrayal of "Who am I?" and "Who will you be beside me?" Woody finding all he ever wanted with Bo is what we all crave when we look into someone else's eyes. The children have grown up.

And Forkie? He exclaims that he is trash and tries to throw himself into the trash constantly until someone explains to him that no, he is not trash, he was created for more, someone put life and love into him and he is not trash. We are not trash.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Wanting to Be Superhuman

Why do people often complain about fictional characters? They say they're whiny or complain too much or don't handle things well. Bella from Twilight and Kylo Ren from Star Wars come to mind as two big such characters. But when people complain about characters' reactions, do they think about how they themselves would react to the same circumstances that these fictional character go through?

Take Kylo. He didn't find out until he was in his twenties that Darth Vader was his grandfather--and he didn't even find out because his family told him. He found out because the secret went public. So he found that out and he was having some struggles with staying on the right path and then he had that encounter with Luke---so of course all that would mess someone up. Does that mean he isn't responsible for his actions? No, of course not. I'm just saying that the right choice isn't always easy or even clear when you're in the middle of it all. It's easy to blame fictional characters for things that we might fail at ourselves.

I've talked at some point about how The Silver Chair is one of the least favorite books out of The Chronicles of Narnia. And it also happens to be the book in which all of the characters keep failing. They have clear tasks and yet they just keep botching it all up (though Aslan is there to help them through it all, anyway, and they do succeed in the end). So it's hard to dwell in that story because it reminds us of our own shortcomings.

That's why we often prefer our fictional characters to act in superhuman ways: we want to believe that we can, too. Sure, characters that are relatable are great, but we'd rather relate to their positive traits or even simply their struggles than their failures. We want to believe that we're tempted to be bystanders like Han Solo but we come through in the end, or that we're shaken by some sort of awful realization like Luke was but that we use that knowledge for good. But we don't want to know that we're falling apart like Kylo. We don't want to know that we're botching everything up like Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum did in The Silver Chair.

That's why we criticize fictional characters. Failure hurts but victory gives us hope. We can learn from the failure, but sometimes we just like fiction to feel good.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Don Bugito: Dark Chocolate Crickets with Amaranth Seeds

We have some good times where I work. Some crazy times, too, but also some fun times. And plenty of craziness. Take, for instance, ending the day with a bag of coconut mealworms and a bag of chocolate crickets. Mainly, as you would imagine, simply watching one person eat them while everyone else watched in disgusted amusement.

But, you know, it was chocolate . . . and I review chocolate . . . and the bag also said that it was fair trade. So I started sniffing them in my usual chocolate way; not a particularly interesting chocolate aroma, which implied to me that the chocolate wasn't anything special. And then I took one out and started examining it. I gleefully pointed out that you could see the cricket's little head peeking out of the cluster (we had been trying to figure out whether they were whole crickets or pieces of crickets).

So I quietly took the opportunity. After all, plenty of cultures eat bugs and crickets aren't really too bad as far as bugs go. I eat snails. And I think shrimp are grosser than crickets and they're the norm to eat in our society.

Rather than chocolate-covered crickets like chocolate-covered raisins, these are in fact chocolate clusters, which has been a growing trend. Usually I don't bother with clusters because they contain random, healthy-trendy ingredients. These, for instance, have amaranth. That is, I prefer them having amaranth to quinoa--I'm tired of seeing quinoa everywhere (tell me what's wrong with rice?) and amaranth grows so well and easily out here. The reason, of course, that it is helpful in this particular case to have random added ingredients is to disguise the fact that you're eating a cricket. Amaranth seeds will have a similar crunch to a cricket (these are toasted, by the way), so when you eat these, you can imagine that you're just eating chocolate amaranth clusters, not chocolate-covered crickets.

It's so easy; you don't even have to see the crickets, unless you're deliberately looking for heads like I was (and maybe not all of the heads are even peeking out). I'm sure my quick and terrible pictures do nothing for convincing you, but will anything I say change your mind, anyway? You already walked in here either okay with or not okay with eating crickets--and I doubt I can influence you to the opposite side.

Because I feed dried crickets (and mealworms) to my bearded dragon, I already know what crickets smell like. I could definitely taste that smell--which would be weird except that it isn't a bad smell. It simply is. So if you convince yourself that it's wrong, you'll see it that way; otherwise, hey, I've definitely eaten things that tasted worse.

Like I'd guessed, the amaranth effectively hides the texture. There is some thin, light, and crisp crunch that is exactly what you would expect to get from either amaranth seeds or a toasted cricket. So just think of it as amaranth if that helps.

The chocolate was better than I'd expected. That is, with something like this, you expect it to be a novelty product. So you expect terrible, sweet, oily, compounded chocolate. This was just chocolate. A little on the sweet side of a dark chocolate, perhaps, but not bad. Not amazing and probably not much on its own, but acceptable. Someone did mention that it was a little dry. Either that's because there is so much amaranth and cricket that there isn't enough chocolate to give the usual, melting-at-body-temperature feel of chocolate or the dryness is intentional. What I mean is that this chocolate is starting to make me think of chocolate I've had before.

I'm thinking of Chocolate Momotombo, these truffles out of Nicaragua that I reviewed some years ago back on Chocablog. Those I think were more moist, but they had an almost crumbliness, a more rustic texture to them that these cricket clusters are bringing to mind. Naturally, the reason I'm turning to such comparisons is that Don Bugito, who are based out of San Francisco, draws inspiration from Pre-Columbian Mexican cuisine. So they're not just creating novelty products; they're genuinely trying to put together a certain style and flavor profile. And they're trying to make it healthy and cool, too.

That's why the bags aren't clear. They're not trying to gross out Americans. They're trying to get us to take a leap, take a new perspective, get over our weirded-out-ness, and find a new food we can enjoy.

Just one last note, since this is supposed to be a chocolate review, after all. This is more of a power food, snacking cluster than a chocolate. So the chocolate is more of an ingredient than the main focus. The texture is the main focus and the flavor overall is mild and light. That being said, if you are going to try crickets for the first time, disguised in chocolate and amaranth is a good way to go for it.

Traveling to Batuu Alone (Part 3)

Click here for Part 2.

My reservation for Galaxy's Edge was from 11 to 3 on Thursday--that seemed like a pretty good time, though getting it makes you realize how big of a chunk that takes out from the rest of your park time. I mean, for people who specifically came to see Star Wars, no big deal, but this was my one trip to the parks after a year--and I never know how long it'll be before the next one. So the four hours in the separate land and then the half hour of arriving early to await entrance and then the little bit of time it took to check in at Launch Bay (I really didn't have any wait time there), it adds up.

However, it was completely worth it. And those who have said that Galaxy's Edge feels separate from the rest of the park, you like are in fact on Batuu at Black Spire Outpost and not in Disneyland are completely right.

You walk down that stretch past Hungry Bear and out of Critter Country . . . into another place. It's all so subtle and yet so complete and detailed. Even knowing that they just built this place and it didn't exist a couple years ago and they're the ones who intentionally colored in the rocks and the aging on the buildings, your mind doesn't really believe any of that when you're there. What you see is completely real--and it's beautiful.

Galaxy's Edge is gorgeous. It's like a combination of Takodana and Tatooine with just a touch of Endor's forest moon. The colors and textures are earthy, giving that feeling of the remote outpost that it is. If I had met this location in the films, it would still genuinely be one of my favorites. And that isn't coincidence: the designers certainly put plenty of thought into what characteristics we all love best and would most want to have in the one real place that we can visit.

Going in with the reservation system, you're kind of all herded in and you have to keep walking until you've essentially walked the length of the land--which is where people start getting in line for Oga's Cantina and building a lightsaber and all that. That's where you start splitting off. Before that, though, you're all just walking in one open-mouthed clan, all in simultaneous awe of everything you're seeing. You have to remind yourself that there'll be time later to stop and take it all in and take pictures.

The Ride

Though I'd heard not to do the Millennium Falcon first because the wait time goes down as you get deeper in the session time, I was fairly near the front of the herd, so the wait said 15 minutes, so I thought, ah, why not. Since the wait was low, I went ahead and went through the standby line so that I could see the queue (obviously, though, there must be plenty more queue that they didn't route us through with such a short line). So I continued my wide-eyed looks, admiring the hallways and the from-the-top view of the Falcon. I was the last person in the room with Hondo--you suddenly look up and there is this fictional, animated character standing in real life above you and you completely buy into the illusion that he is real.

I did the ride two more times after this during my session, single rider both those times. I definitely recommend going standby at least once to see Hondo and the queue and I definitely recommend doing standby rather than single rider if you're not actually a single rider. What makes the ride fun is riding with your group and getting to control the Falcon. There are six riders and you each have a different task: two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers in the back. Single riders always get engineer, where you just have to press flashing buttons. Still amazingly fun, but I'd love to pilot sometime, too.

But let me back that up. They're arranged it all so well. After you see Hondo, you wait in a small hallway, then you're divided into your groups, where you hang out for a second in the room in the Falcon with the holo table. It can be a little difficult to hear your group color called, so especially if you're a single rider, memorize who the rest of your group is and keep them in view so you don't get left behind. It all happens so fast at this point: you're suddenly in the cockpit of the Falcon and it's all going.

It's just a simulator, like Star Tours. You're still just sitting in front of a screen. And (when you're in the back, at least) it's actually a little hard to see much of what's even going on in the screen. You're looking forward but also to the side at all the buttons. And yet that's kind of the point. Being there is the point, not riding a ride. That's what makes the experience fun. I'd definitely recommend getting in at least two rides: the first ride is kind of just taking it in and figuring out how it all works. By the second one, you have more of a feel for it and so can take more control.

The Food

By this point, I'd already been in the park for four hours, so it was a while since the banana bread muffins I'd had on a bench in Main Street before park opening. So my plan was to go to Ronto Roasters and get a Meiloorun Juice and some Nuna Turkey Jerky. They're always talking about meiloorun fruits in Rebels, so this was the item I got most excited over back when Disney first announced the menus. Basically it's flavored lemonade, not any specific fruit flavors, just a sweet, candy-fruit sense that was nice enough. I do appreciate places in general having drink options other than soda. I chose the sweet jerky rather than spicy; it had a sort of barbecue sauce flavor. I kept that in my purse to nibble on throughout the day, as the little reminder of where I'd traveled earlier.

Later I got the blue and the green milk. Obligatorily, of course. The blue milk was nice. As everyone has mentioned by now, they have sort of a frozen smoothie texture. The blue milk tastes like something I can't quite put my finger on, like maybe a candy lost somewhere in my memory. It tasted just right. Simple and mildly pleasant. The floral flavor I'd heard the green had is not an exaggeration and it isn't floral like sweet, rose flavor--it's more of that zingy, floral flavor as when chocolate has floral flavor notes. So not my preference. It's just very strong and feels more like something that should be an added flavor rather than a flavor on its own--which is why you can mix the blue and green and end up with something nice even if you don't care much for the green on its own. I threw out most of the green because I didn't really like it and because, you know, that was my third drink in a four hour window. One person can only drink so much in four hours. So, yeah, they are a little on the pricey side. A cost of $5.50 or thereabouts feels very average for a drink, but nearly $8, well, obviously I paid it without blinking, which is why it's that price, but these won't really be drinks for return visits if they cost so much more than other drink options in the park or even the land (minus the alcohol, of course).

While we're on food. I didn't go to Oga's Cantina because I figured, I'm by myself, I would still have fun, but I can save that for later when I have people with me and I can enjoy it in a different way. Nice to keep something to look forward to for a return visit, anyway. Lunch proper was at Docking Bay 7. Possibly I should have just headed here first and then visited all the beverages, maybe then my appetite would have been more normal. But I'm just making excuses: truth is, I didn't care for the food. I chose the Fried Endorian Tip-yip and the Batuu-bon. Tip-yips are in universe and look just like chickens. So it's fried chicken, but it comes in a rectangle that looks more like fish. It's served on vegetable potato hash with herb gravy. And it all tasted very strongly of what I want to call chicken broth but was maybe a specific herb or vegetable that I don't favor. It was just too strong of a flavor for me, so I honestly only ended up picking at it all. I'm picky, though, and I know some of the other dishes seemed to have an Asian influence and I don't usually care for Asian food much, so it's probably just me and my weird palate. The Batuu-bon was a mini cake sphere. I didn't care for the cream and without it, the cake tasted a little dry--so I didn't even like that. It was all pretty, though. I liked the idea of it all. I just didn't like eating any of it. I'll try something else next time, but it could be that I'll just have to eat outside of the Star Wars universe in the future.

The Shopping

I didn't do Oga's Cantina. I didn't build a lightsaber. I didn't build a droid. What? Then what did I even go there for? Ha, ha, no, even if those are the most popular things, they're not the only things there. Once more, these seemed like things I'd rather save for when I wasn't alone. And while I would mind having a lightsaber or a droid, I preferred to spend my money on a few things than just one thing. And I wanted to buy all the things. Shopping in Galaxy's Edge feels more like shopping in Santa Fe than at Disneyland. It's fantastic. All these trinkets. I almost got an Ahsoka rag doll ($20 or $25, I think) at the Toydarian Toymaker just because it was so cool. I did get chance cubes ($8) there, though. Rey's vest (about $60 or $70) was tempting. All the little shops at the market are so beautiful and so perfect. They're so fun, just being in them is an experience of itself. You're in Star Wars, it's amazing. I'd planned to get a Kowakian Monkey Lizard ($70), so I did that. I was beaming carrying that thing around in its little box. That made me more happy than a lightsaber, anyway.

My other planned purchase was a holocron ($50, $12 more for a kyber crystal) from Dok Ondar's Den of Antiquities. Ah, the way they display them in the store is just unreal. You're not going to Wal-Mart and buying this thing in plastic hanging from a display hook. Dok Ondar's was the best. I was so tempted to get the lamp from The Empire Strikes Back (it's called Yoda's, though technically it wasn't Yoda's until he stole it from Luke), but I did end up getting the Jedi notebook ($30) because, you know, notebooks are my thing. And sitting there, it looked like an ancient Jedi text and I just couldn't help it.  What awed me, though, was seeing Padme's Jappor snippet necklace ($20) that Anakin gave her. I snatched that up and I adore it. I put it on immediately and I can't stop wearing it. I maybe have imbued it with personal meaning and it makes me so happy.

So the shopping is amazing. All of these things that feel real and not like merchandise even though they are merchandise. They're like the things we as fans dream about. And the robes, oh, the robes. Should I save money next trip for a lightsaber or for a robe? A robe honestly might get me more excited, so I don't know. So, yes, budget for shopping, too, because you'll want to buy everything because it's all amazing.

A Loth Cat snapshot for my friend who's fond of cats.

All the loot (the lanyard and red pin the hotel gave me).

The Characters

Though I obviously love Star Wars, I do not like seeing the stormtroopers in Disneyland. I hate it, in fact. It doesn't feel right or look right, having these servants of the Empire marching around the Happiest Place on Earth. Don't like it. I'd rather turn the other way than stay to watch them.

In Galaxy's Edge, though, completely different story. This is their universe, so they make sense here. You see them and say, there are stormtroopers, this land is alive, I'm in a Star Wars story that's happening around me. It's real. And they do their little bit with the officer over by the Tie-fighter and then Kylo Ren comes out and he just starts walking around the land. And you just want to go stalk him and it's hilarious. It's great.

They did such a wonderful job at creating a fully-immersive experience. When you pay, instead of asking if you have an annual pass, they ask if you have a discount card. When someone wanted to see how she looked trying on a piece of clothing, the shopkeeper offered to take a picture of her with her data pad (instead of her phone). You truly feel like you're all part of this grand play game and it's so wonderful because since it's new, we're all playing along and fully buying into it. That's how all of Disneyland is supposed to be, we've just kind of forgotten to leave our world behind when we're there--but we remember to do so when we're on Batuu.