Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Truncated Look at Wildlife and the Fear Concept

I say that this is a truncated look at Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium because I didn't end up walking through the whole park and I took very little pictures to share on here and I'm also ending this post on a roundabout topic. The only other time I had been to Wildlife was probably about 17 years ago--so they've expanded and added quite a bit since then. Yet mainly I think we stayed on the original part of the park.

What's quite nice about Wildlife is that it has somewhat more of an Out of Africa feel than the Phoenix Zoo does--yet it has been at its location for long enough that it has much of the wonderful tree growth that the Phoenix Zoo has. I always say at Out of Africa that I'd rather the animals have it well than us; I'd rather any money go to make them happy. But trees are nice, all the same. Wildlife has a good amount of shade for a hot day or just to create outdoor atmosphere.

Certain animals I'm used to visiting at Out of Africa, so what was nice from Wildlife specifically? Birds, definitely birds. They have a varied assortment of birds, large and small, familiar and exotic. A precious turkey, a condor, a king vulture, and ostriches were among my favorites. Their Dragon World exhibit was naturally another favorite of mine. While he wasn't in Dragon World, their white alligator was gorgeous; he's like a sculpture of soft marble.

We saw their young giraffe. Goodness, they have so many giraffes. And I can't remember ever seeing a young one before. He was especially cute to see because he's already so tall that he doesn't look small--so he just makes you double back and realize how tall the adults are.

And then there was the aquarium side. I'm sure I've mentioned from time to time that I have something of a fear of aquariums. For the last close to twenty years, I've just been avoiding them entirely. Last time I went to Wildlife I waited outside while my family went in--even though I was only about eleven years old at the time.

Today, though, I'm trying to overcome that fear. Actually, I'm trying to dissect it and discover where it comes from so that I can mend that, but that's another story. Point is, I specifically wanted to go in some of the aquarium buildings on this trip. And goodness, what shocker that first one was. It was the River Monsters building. I walked in and it was dark and the tanks were kind of hazy in the back (that's what bothers me most, I've realized) and there were faux trees (that almost bothers me most than the water, I've learned). I wanted to back out. Or cry. Or run out crying.

And then a field trip group walked in. Ten kids running around and talking in excitement about the fish did wonders for me. They grounded me and focused me. I looked at the fish. I looked at the walls that made up the back of the tanks, reminding myself that I could see the whole tank and everything in it. I focused on the clear space where we were all walking. I focused on aquariums as something that we all go to see out of interest. Throughout the other buildings, I still had to remind myself sometimes (audibly, of course, because it helps to say out loud that you're in a bit of a struggle) that it was okay. And you know what? It was. I mean, I'll still not make aquariums a destination, but I'll try and not avoid them anymore. I'll try and not avoid fear anymore. I'll try and explain why I'm afraid and then explain why I don't need to be.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Stars are Faint

The stars are faint;
they drench the night, anyway.

The whispers are heard
but only by a few.

The leaves blow with the wind,
even when nothing else moves.

Listen and you'll see.

Remember and you'll forget.

Touch this moment and it will end.

The past is blossoming into the present
and the future is interceding on behalf of this moment.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Little Secrets: Dark Chocolate Pieces

Well, Halloween is almost here, so I might as well go for some more chocolate candy. This will be the fourth Little Secrets product I've reviewed and the third of their Pieces, but the first plain-flavored one (the Dark Chocolate Pieces). I've gone about it a bit opposite, I admit: it's often nicest to try and plain option first and then work your way into the flavored products.

I do apologize if you can tell that I took these from the clearance shelf. They're a little more powdery-looking, but are otherwise just as great (they're still nearly a year away from their best by date). Initially I tasted the candy shell. While it may not seem so exciting to be able to taste straight sugar, this is candy, after all, and I like to be able to taste sugar as sugar and not simply get strange, unidentifiable flavors. I also tasted the chocolate on its own for, essentially, the first time, given that I have only had flavored chocolate from Little Secrets before.

It's mild dark chocolate, more of the semisweet type than the candy dark chocolate type. Probably roughly around 55% cocoa content or so. It does have some of that fudge, brownie flavor to it, though not quite in that weird, thick-flavored zone that some confection-style dark chocolate can have. It is, of course, pretty sweet, but again, this is candy.

I probably wouldn't overly care for it as a chocolate bar, but in these I like it. Even for being so different than what most of us are used to with M&M's, the proportions work great. As I've mentioned, the Pieces are bigger than the regular brand of candy-coated chocolates. Yet the thicker and bigger style here still feels completely balanced, maybe partly also because I really haven't had M&M's in a while. The thing is, though, you have more of a chance to taste chocolate here with the greater thickness. And that's in fact quite nice: they're actually a chocolate candy.

So I'll continue the remarks I've made before: Little Secrets is doing a good job in the little chocolate candies department, giving a good-tasting, more natural, and fair trade option.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Maleficent's Choice

Wow, did Maleficent really come out five years ago? I wrote favorably about that first film back then, so I was in fact looking forward to the sequel, even as I find that I am very much over Disney's live action remakes (The Lion King was the last straw for me, and I think I'll only manage to watch Lady and the Tramp on a day when I'm sick in bed, if even then). The thing is, Maleficent isn't exactly a retelling--it's its own story.

The first film was the story of a woman who was hurt by a man. The cutting off of her wings was essentially thematic of rape. Her inner world turned dark and she made the outer world around her dark, too--until she was able to find hope and love again with Aurora as her daughter. What I love about that first movie is that it went in with a very specific story and theme that they wanted to tell. Substance and not too much fluff.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil brought in a tad more fluff. It flowed more like an average movie, not as streamlined as the first. However, it still brought in a wonderful expression of that same theme from before.

The first movie showed Maleficent's turning point. She decided to choose love over vengeance--goodness over evil. We saw her choice. The second movie showed the, What now? A choice generally isn't something we choose once and never again. A choice that has to do with lifestyle and beliefs is a choice that we make every day. And no matter how good our choices might be, there will still be outside forces that try and attack us and get us to go back on our choices.

Maleficent meant well. She truly had come to love Aurora. But she was still in pain, still unable to trust, and still unable to believe that she and Aurora would be better off dwelling on forgiveness over vengeance. Queen Ingrith did mean ill against Maleficent--but the greatest ill that Maleficent almost let her make against her was to make her like her. Maleficent nearly (and did for a time) meet evil with evil. That helps no one.

She learned by the end how to take that pain and finally let it go, finally stop letting it control her actions. Yes, Stefan hurt her and stole from her, but she learned that she was still her own person, capable of choosing for herself who she wanted to be. He did not choose for her; he did not make her into a creature of pain and agony and revenge.

I would feel remiss not to mention Diaval's role. The crow has turned into Maleficent's counselor and guide. He was her wings and now he's her translator, not just telling her what's going on but also suggesting to her what it all truly means and how she ought to react to it. And the new outfit suited him quite well, too.

So while I would call this movie more wandering and less focused, it remained enjoyable and the theme remained stellar. Don't believe what people tell you that you are. You are what you choose for yourself; that is your choice, not theirs. Don't let the pain of the past steal from your present or your future. If they say that you are the Mistress of Evil, then let that mean that you command the Evil to leave, not that you promote the Evil. Make the good choice and live the good choice every day.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Wild at Night in the Garden

How's that for a title? I am, of course, referring to the Wild Rising installation at the Desert Botanical Garden. Last week, I shared some thoughts on the daytime experience--now I'm back with nighttime.

The garden at night is wonderful for locals during the warmer months because it allows you to spend some time outdoors and around plants without taking in the full heat of the day. For non-locals, though, your visibility is limited. There is lighting and some sections are quite well lit, but others are going to be less viewable. So there is naturally less to look at at night. Presumably this is why they tried out Electric Desert, their nighttime exhibit last year--but I quite frankly hated most of those installations. I found them extremely disruptive to the garden experience.

Wild Rising, though, remains just as fun during the night as the day--and it is perhaps even better because of the more limited visibility of the rest of the garden. You have less plants to look at, so now you have some colorful animals to look at. And the bright colors aren't disruptive to the other desert colors because all of the colors are shaded by night. The bright colors become simply bright lights.

The meerkats are solemn even in pink and green and purple and yellow. And these two share a moment even more tender and special in the darkness.

The snails, which I wasn't completely certain on during the day, were lovely at night. They're warm and glowing and happy. 

You can hardly even tell that this one is taller than a person. 

The medium-sized blue one on the edge of the path now appears to light the way. 

As for the penguins, they are in fact quite poetic at night. Green lights standing stalwart against the black. 

And the frogs? Well, they're just as cute and silly at night as during the day. They seem to be singing a jolly song, to remind you that even though this art is meant to bring up serious environmental topics, the world is still a place of wonder, a place to enjoy. And that is precisely why it is worth treasuring with our actions. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Little Secrets: Spiced Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Pieces

The problem with trying to review seasonal chocolate is not just that it's hard to find much seasonal chocolate (outside of a chocolate shop) but also that most companies are going to repeat the same product year after year. Which is fine. Too many experiments or too much expectation for new things tends to just turn up strangeness. But it does mean that after I've looked at, for instance, all of Theo's Christmas chocolate bars, I'm done and have nothing more to review from them.

Little Secrets, though, is still a fairly new company, so I still have ground to explore with them. I started with their Peppermint Dark Chocolate Pieces two years ago, and now I'm on to their fall option, the Spiced Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Pieces. I like pumpkin pie as much as the next person, but I don't understand the pumpkin spice obsession. Is this the only fall flavor combination available? Still, pumpkin spices and even pumpkin itself go better with chocolate than with many of the products out there.

The pieces, which are about the size of Peanut M&M's, are orange and red like fallen leaves (colored with vegetable juice and turmeric instead of artificial colorings). The pumpkin inside is not orange like in the picture on the bag; it's cream-colored. But there is in fact pumpkin in there. This isn't pumpkin spice; it's spiced pumpkin.

Inside that crunchy candy shell, the filling is quite soft to bite into. The main spice is ginger. A little cinnamon, too, but mainly ginger. Maybe some nutmeg, too. Since there is pumpkin, you can taste a little of that sort of hollow taste that pumpkin has. There is only a brush of chocolate; it's really just there for the fun of it. Probably without the chocolate, this would all taste sweeter and more cloying, but the chocolate itself isn't a strongly noticeable flavor.

I didn't overly care for the adventure Little Secrets made into chocolate wafers, but they do great work with their candy coated chocolates. Fair trade chocolate, seasonal and popular flavor, and good candy. Even not being on the pumpkin spice bandwagon, I could see buying a bag of these every year. If I'm going to get a pumpkin product or a pumpkin spice product, this one works. If I were to offer constructive criticism, I would suggest that Little Secrets also begins to use organic ingredients. And I do prefer not to see palm oil in the ingredients. That being said, they still have plenty going for them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wild Rising in the Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden has been aiming to keep things fresh, give people reasons to come back, and be part of the art world as well as the plant world. That is, they strive to be a community place. They had an art exhibit throughout the garden a year or two back that I did not care for (the one with the giant standing pigs in bright colors and polka dots). This past year, Electric Desert was their nighttime exhibit--and I also did not care for that one. I felt like it detracted from rather than enhanced the garden.

All of this to say that their newest exhibit, Wild Rising by Cracking Art, does work--it is both fun and thoughtful, both during the day and at night (I'll save the nighttime pictures for later, though, as I find that I have too many).

As you walk toward the entrance from the parking lot, you look up to see frogs of various colors. I don't know if it was because I was with a two-year-old when I first saw them, but even as a person not inclined towards bright colors or primary colors, these frogs made me happy.

Keep walking and solemn meerkats meet you. 

Can you tell yet the material? These animals are all made of recycled plastic, their message being sustainability. So beside each installation, you'll find a sign telling the story of each particular set-up. 

The type of animal and its behavior ties in with a particular message or concept related to environmental awareness. 

The snails I wasn't sure about. Maybe because of the big, blue snail that takes up center stage looking so very bright (remember, I'm not a bright color person). Maybe because of all the words (I tend to like my words in books and just images for visual art). But the more time I spent with them, the more I tended to like seeing the yellow and red snails up above me. 

The big yellow snails were more favorable to me than the big blue snail--they blend in better with their environment. 

The big, blue crocodile, though, I was all over. He's crying "crocodile tears" as a commentary on our awareness of the existence of sustainability issues and our continued lack of focus on taking action. I love the lizard types of animals and he was by a bridge and bridges tend to go over water and water is blue--so I didn't mind blue in this context. 

I caught a special moment between these two; let's say no more. 

My photo doesn't do justice to the plastic fish up in the sky. They're so silly because you have the regular plant exhibits down at the bottom, then you look up to see "toy" fish. And the blues and whites blend in well with the blue sky, so the colors aren't jarring. They, of course, are a commentary on plastic in the ocean. When whimsy meets tragedy, eh?

These green birds are just so big that they're terrific. I'm more of a green person, it's true, and yet it's also true that the cactus behind the birds are green, right? 

The snails over in another corner of the garden were some of the most natural of all. 

They were almost black, some shiny with blue and others with green. 

These snails are the type for quiet reflection. 

In general, though, even with the bright colors, these installations blended with the garden and felt natural to it. Obviously, of course, they're not natural there, but they made sense in each space. Some I liked more than others, but mostly they at least didn't detract from the garden. For the most part, they did enhance it. They're conversation starters and photo opportunities. They're fun things to look at and smile at. And yet they're also offering up some serious commentary, reminding us to be aware of our place in the world and the effects of the choices that we make. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Fall Holidays

I am reminded that fall is my favorite season. It would seem that it should be spring, but as beautiful as spring is, there is something agitating about spring. Fall, on the other hand, is comforting and cozy.

As far as the fall holidays go, I'm not so big on Halloween as everyone these days seems to be. I like dressing up and I like candy and bats are pretty, but the rest of it? I'm just not interested. So right now that everyone is all in the Halloween mood, I'm excited that Thanksgiving is coming up.

Perhaps Thanksgiving gets hyped less because its theme is not commercial--and unlike Christmas, it still retains that good core. (Okay, Christmas does, too, to many people, but it has that highly commercialized exterior.) Yet I do like to put out all my turkeys in November, and I do like to buy a little Thanksgiving something at the stores just to show that hey, there are those of us who like Thanksgiving, too, not just Halloween or Christmas.

You have to be quick about it, though. Stores put out such little Thanksgiving merchandise (apart from the foodstuffs that come later, of course) that you have to nab it right when you see it or it'll be gone.

I do like the vintage-inspired signage that you can sometimes find, so I picked up these two at Hobby Lobby earlier in the year. They somewhat go with my Victorian-esque style.

At Wal-Mart, I got place cards not because I necessarily needed any but just to get something. And also because the name (Julia) they used for an example is the name of the character in my novel--and as you'll know if you've read my book, Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday.

At Michael's, I found these two necklace kits. I guess they're designed as a craft for kids to do on the day of, but I just wanted the wooden turkeys for me. I'll make a necklace or bracelet or two without the plastic beads.

I also got a wooden tree there. It's two flat pieces of wood that fit in together to make a 3-D shape. Perhaps I might try staining it at some point; I'm not sure. It has little leaves with space on them to write what you're thankful for. You then attach them to the tree. I thought that might make for a nice little sentimental thing to do. I don't always like the forced, flat sentiment, but this year I am reminded that I am in fact quite genuinely sentimental, so perhaps this will work. And you can always make new leaves year after year, always keeping the tree around. (I also just have a thing for trees, so maybe that's why I got this one--or it could be that it seemed like a genuine Thanksgiving thing, not a commercialized thing.)

I don't usually put anything outside, but I guess I wanted to get into the spirit of the fall holidays that some of my neighbors are starting in on without all the Halloween things they have. So I put a pumpkin in the middle of my usual door wreath. Pumpkins can be either Halloween or Thanksgiving, though the sentiment definitely puts it in the spirit of Thanksgiving. And why not? If other people love Halloween so much that they start putting out Halloween things in September, I'll just go ahead and love Thanksgiving so much that I start putting Thanksgiving things out in October.

I don't want to call on fear; I want to call on thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Walking through Dreams - Part 2

Click here for Part 1.

I went to see an old friend while I was at the Happiest Place on Earth. Her house is so pretty, kept nice and neat and bright with flowers. It had been years since I'd visited her.

I really had to make it over because, as you can see, I'd dressed like her, right down to the lace-edged shorts under my skirt. You know, I'd heard people say that a dress is a great option for Disneyland because it's comfortable and you can add leggings when it gets cold at night. I'm a dress person, but I always wear jeans to Disneyland--until now. The dresses were great. (Though I did find that the fabric on this particular dress took a long time to dry, which did not go well with my Grizzly River Run soaking.)

I only regret that I usually take off my glasses for posed pictures and I forgot to with Minnie. Guess I was more focused on meeting her. (I also forgot with Darth Vader, but maybe that was because I didn't want the increased intimidation of not being able to see when I was around him.) My dress had pockets, so I would put my glasses in one pocket and my phone in the other to have easy access to the PhotoPass code at the end.

I also caught a glimpse of the Cheshire Cat while swirling in a teacup. I told you, I spent a whole morning (well, maybe not the whole morning) just bouncing around by myself to the PhotoPass spots--I highly recommend it. 

And the Castle, of course. 

I noticed that they did many "magic" pictures with me--perhaps the magic is a little easier when there's just one person in the picture? Or maybe since posing is quicker with just one person, they're able to spend a little more time with you to get different types of shots. 

Lunch was at Carthay Circle in California Adventure, out on the patio. Carthay is gorgeous inside, though it was also a lovely day to spend outside. Also nice was getting to take a long break in the middle of the day. I didn't get very tired this trip because of the dining that we did, even though I'd never spent so long at the parks (two and a half days). 

The best thing are their signature biscuits. Don't pass them up; they're full of fine dining flavor and flair.

Speaking of fine dining, dinner that day was at Napa Rose over in the Grand Californian. Arts and Crafts style and California cuisine, a literal stone's throw from the parks. 

Glass windows overlook the hotel guest entrance into California Adventure. The drink is Pushing up Roses. 

The entree was the Skuna Bay Salmon, which had a strawberry dust and corn relish. I couldn't picture how that would all go together, but it was stellar. Napa Rose lived up to its name as the best restaurant at the Disneyland Resort. 

Though it was about three weeks after my birthday, this was when we were all able to get out there, so technically it was kind of all for my birthday. So if I got to indulge quite a bit, that's why. 

Breakfast the next morning (I told you we did a lot of dining) was at Carnation Cafe on Main St. Given that I'm usually into taking advantage of the shorter wait times in the morning, I never have breakfast in the park (unless it's something on the go). So it was super nice to get to do something so classic. 

Afterwards, we saw Frozen at the Hyperion and the Coco street show by the Pier. The latter was nice but the former was amazing. Even knowing beforehand that it was a full, Broadway style show with high production values didn't change how great it was to finally see it in person. Beautiful sets and costumes, wonderful use of projections, and a talented cast. 

By this time, I was aching for salad and also picturing long lines in California Adventure, so we made our way back across the way for lunch at Rancho del Zocalo, where we also sampled some Halloween Time treats, the Frozen Abuelita Horchata, the Pan Dulce Ice Cream Sandwich, and the Orange Sugar Skull Pot de Creme. The pot de creme also tasted of Abuelita hot chocolate, and the pan dulce was (unfortunately for me) better than most of the bread I can find where I live (I mean, the one in Mesa isn't bad, but I also feel like I've had better and isn't there anything super good that's closer?). 

I spent an interesting balance this trip of spending time by myself, with one other person, with a small group, and with a large group (nine people, that is). I rode rides, I sat around, I watched shows, I saw street performances, I took pictures, I met characters, I ate food of both the fine dining and the park dining varieties. I caught the tail end of Fantasmic, which is my favorite part. I think I did it all. 

It was all so wonderful overall that I do believe I dreamed it all up and then my dream became a reality through which I began to walk.