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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Disney Parks Solo (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

I've spent an hour or two alone at Disneyland plenty of times. My disturbance with aquariums and the like (it's kind of like a phobia, which I know is strange) means that I prefer to sit out the submarines, so I'll usually send the rest of the group on them while I trot around the park taking pictures and maybe going on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or up into the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Through. This was my first time just completely going by myself, though. Even though I thought it would be fine, there was a part of me that wondered if a couple hours in, I'd feel a little weird, like okay, what do I do now. That didn't happen at all.

I got to the park around 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon and stayed until closing, then was there open to close on Thursday. I realized right away that, hey, I can do whatever I want. It's funny how everything shifts when you're by yourself. You're not doing things that you feel like you should do, you're just doing whatever you feel like doing. No multiple opinions, just yours. So I decided to start off with Mr. Toad, then a (very) late lunch at the Red Rose Tavern because, you know, Gaston's Brew. No line for food, what a way to start out the trip, eh?

In fact, the whole trip was kind of like that. I had so many short lines. I literally walked on to Splash Mountain (the regular line, not single rider) twice and had the log to myself Thursday morning because there was no one in line behind me. Same with the Fantasyland and Toontown rides and Haunted Mansion. I did Single Rider at Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Incredicoaster, Goofy's Sky School, Radiator Springs Racers, and Grizzly River Run (I got soaked because I ended up in an edge seat, but you know, it dries quickly, and the family I rode with unknowingly put their ten year old girl in the other soaker seat, so I felt less bad). Such a short line for Thunder Mountain that I rode it three times in a row. I did a lot of rides in a row. I stayed on Gadget's twice in a row. Since Indy broke down while we were in line, they let us ride it twice. I finished off the last ten minutes of Wednesday night by staying in the same teacup for five rides, spinning for four of them. (I have bad wrists/thumbs, so I paid the price for two or three days afterwards, but it was worth it.)

I have admitted to myself that the Mad Tea Party is probably my favorite ride.

I rode the Carousel for the first time in nearly twenty years--and I got Jingles, too, which was wonderful.

I saw the new Tale of the Lion King show in California Adventure; it was quick and fun. I did some drive-bys of the parade. I caught the end of Fantasmic the first night (the end is my favorite) and most of the show the second night. All of the fireworks the first night and most of them (while walking past the castle to Tomorrowland) the second night.

"When out of the night dark forces ignite, to blind you with frightening schemes, you use your might to fight in the light, creating a night of wondrous dreams." Ah, light versus dark, the heart of Disney, the theme of Fantastmic, the theme that stirs me most.

I had a late dinner (with a Dole Whip) at Tropical Hideaway the first night and a regular timed one at one of my favorite places, French Market (with a Mint Julep), the second night. Lunch the second day? Oh, that was at Galaxy's Edge, of course, but that'll be its own post.

I bought a Minnie Mouse pin that said "Today is My Day" because, even though it's a little different from the pins I usually get, was that not the perfect description of this trip? I wore that on my shirt on Thursday and I let my hair blow in the wind (I usually tie it up or braid it for Disneyland) because I didn't care what I looked like and I put on pink lip tint because that's my favorite shade.

I did lots of walking, just adoring the park that we all love as I moved randomly from one place to another. No rhyme or reason, just going wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. I wanted to go to Disneyland, so I went to Disneyland. Sure, it's a magical place to go with people you care about--but it's pretty magical by yourself, too.

Monday, June 17, 2019

On Traveling Alone (Part 1)

Though I've been in the car for it plenty of times, I've never personally driven to California--or even in California. Add to this the fact that I definitely did not get my driver's license at sixteen; it was much later. And I've never traveled alone--except for a plane trip in which someone dropped me off at the airport and someone else picked me up, so that doesn't really count.

This past week, though, I decided to take a solo trip to Disneyland. I'd been tentatively thinking of a trip there in May, but for reasons, that didn't happen. So when I looked up and saw that it was June and I did want to go, I thought, well, I should just go by myself, then. It suddenly became one of those things that I had to do to prove to myself that I could.

It's funny, everything you're programmed with as a small female tells you that you should not drive for six hours across the state line by yourself, maybe not even stay at a hotel by yourself. But I drive on highways all the time--and often at night. And the road to California is well-traveled--by more decent, regular people than creepers, too (and there are creepers all over, anyway, and in unexpected places, too). And I was traveling in broad daylight. So really, it wasn't much of a big deal.

And driving in California? It isn't as though I was driving in LA traffic. I was just driving to Anaheim and not even during traffic hours. I left around 7:30 and got in by 2:30 (I did hit some Phoenix morning traffic and then some construction traffic in California, so the drive was longer than I'd expected).

I used the whole staying-by-myself thing as an extra excuse to stay on property. That way, there would be absolutely no feeling unsafe (and no crossing the street by myself past midnight). And, you know, that meant that I got a time slot to see Galaxy's Edge.

It was kind of funny checking in to the hotel. So many people would love to have had reservations for Galaxy's Edge and here I was using up a whole hotel room's worth of reservations just for myself. But you know, sometimes you just have to be a little reckless and sometimes you just have to spoil yourself. As the fantastic hotel staff greeted me at my car and at the front desk, they were sending the message to me that it really was all about me. I went on a Disney vacation by myself . . . because I needed it for me.

I've stayed at the Disneyland Hotel once before a few years ago when some relatives got a room for my family. It was amazing--and it was just as amazing this time, too. I was grinning the whole time that I made my way over to my room in Frontier Tower; I was just so happy.

I'll tell more about my time there in my next post, but for now let me finish with saying that the trip went absolutely perfectly. Nothing went wrong. The worst thing was when I missed the freeway entrance coming back home because it was on the opposite side of the road than what I'd been expecting--but I was able to turn around and get on, no problem. I was fine. I went on a solo trip. I drove to and in California. I stayed two nights by myself. And it was just fine. I came home and everything was as I'd left it.

Guess it's all mine!

So now I know. I can do what I need or want to do and it'll be fine.

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 we 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


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.