Friday, May 29, 2020

Bob's Red Mill: Peanut Butter Chocolate & Oats

Something a little different today. From time to time, I'll review chocolate soap or chocolate candles or other atypical chocolate products. Cereal occasionally has come in. But this is probably the first snack bar. There are, I suppose, enough chocolate snack or energy bars that I haven't the inclination to go about reviewing them. But I was curious about this one because I do generally like Bob's Red Mill products (though I'm used to them selling ingredients like flour or oats or cornmeal rather than things that are already put together), so I wanted to see how they would go about this. And the design reminds me more of a candy bar than of a snack or energy bar.

Or maybe it just appealed to me because it comes in this light, neutral, pale brown, slightly yellow color. (Shiny packaging scares me, this is true.)

Once I opened it up, though, it felt rather too much more like a Clif Bar than I suppose what I'd been imagining. The look is similar with that smushed ingredients style and the smell of the peanuts was similar. So it wasn't particularly exciting. The taste, too, is much like a Clif Bar. There is more of a flavor of oats here, though, oats with that soft, semi-flavorless flavor. The chocolate has presence but the peanut butter doesn't come in much at all.

So yes, this is a snack bar rather than than a candy bar. Not an energy bar, either, more just a granola bar type thing. It does taste nicer than a Clif bar, probably not least because it is much softer in texture (other than the sugar in the chocolate, the only sweetener is honey, which probably helps with the texture, as well).

After tasting a bit of it, I put the rest in my bag to waltz around Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park this week (don't worry; I practically had the place to myself and would go almost an hour at a time without seeing another living soul besides the lizards, birds, and rabbits). And I did find this chocolate oat bar quite delicious when it was nice and warm. It took on more of a fudge feeling, becoming almost a tad too melty. The oats helped to give it that freshly baked feeling while also allowing the chocolate flavor to take over.

Not a bad choice, then, if you're looking for something to throw in a bag. Normally I'd recommend just eating some almonds when you need an on-the-go snack, but hey, maybe now is a time when people are wanting to rely less on finger food snacks? So while this product is a little different from the type of thing I normally review and while I probably won't usually be buying many of these, they are a nice option for the times when you do need a hands-off, pre-packaged, nice-tasting, okay ingredients snack.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Burning Across the Mountain

Last year I walked across the mountain of dried lava; I wore a green lace dress.

This year I walked across the same mountain while wearing the same dress.

I felt free and alive and happy.

My heart was stretched across the land.

I came home and thought of you and was sad.

I will never forget you. I burn with life.

(Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Let It Stay

Normally I don't post anything about the Images of America books. Usually they're not well-suited towards the typical reaction-to-a-book post, though I do quite like them. You can find one on whatever city or town you're interested in--and probably on your favorite state park or historic bridge, too. In fact, the sub-topics are so many now that I wonder how many total Images of America books there are about the greater Phoenix area.

I did have something to say about the Downtown Phoenix book: it was rather depressing. Phoenix history is fascinating because it's in many ways the history of the effects of industrialization. People had been settling in Arizona for decades, but Phoenix didn't really take off as this massive, constantly growing thing until it had a good water supply and a connection to the railroad. So the start of the boom for Phoenix was the turn of the century, when electricity and motor cars and refrigeration were on the rise.

It was quite a "cultural" place. You turn the pages of this book and find all sorts of beautiful or fascinating buildings. But then you get to the end of the caption and read "no longer standing" or "demolished in ___" and it's really quite sad. Like a lot of cities, Phoenix became quite awkward as people started settling more in the suburbs and focusing their attention into those places.

Think about even today. You'll go downtown if you're going to see a game or a show or if you work in one of the office buildings. But for a cute old town district, you go into the surrounding cities. For restaurants, probably the same, unless you're catching something right before the show or game starts--even if you are going to Phoenix, it's probably higher up than the downtown area.

Granted, the entertainment area is there in Phoenix (I miss you, Symphony Hall). Even some of the historical has been saved (looking at you, Heritage Square). And there is art, too, with First Fridays and the art galleries. But when you look at the pictures of great brick buildings that were smothered and then torn down, it's regretful that things didn't happen differently.

The hope is that when we build things, we build things for permanence. And when we look at a place, we also look at it with permanence. Instead of saying, what can we demolish, to say what is already here that we can continue to use? I don't like the idea of a place where buildings are torn down and rebuilt every few decades. How wasteful is that? Instead I hope that we can more often build things to stay and maintain the things that we have.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Little Secrets: Milk Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars

Little Secrets has been steadily making their way into the candy bar alternative market. Their Chocolate Pieces are generally pretty good, but their Crispy Wafers are lacking. How go the Caramel Cookie Bars? They already had M&M's covered and KitKats and there are already a million Reese's Cup alternatives, so Twix seems like a great next step. I'd vote for Milky Way or 3 Muskteers next, but Little Secrets has so far been sticking to the crunchy textures, so maybe they'd be quicker to go for a Snickers alternative?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The bird in hand is the Milk Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bars, so called in plural because there are two sticks inside of the wrapper. Two sticks of milk chocolate with the vanilla cookie and some weird colored caramel that's strangely sticking together. As I was taking the pictures, I was truly curious as to why I would want to put such a strange-looking item as that caramel into my mouth. I would have expected the caramel in a candy bar alternative to be better than typical candy bar caramel--not weird looking.

But everything else seemed fine. The milk chocolate smells like creamy, confection milk chocolate. Biting in, I tasted the vanilla of the cookie and it's nice to be able to get some flavor to the cookie instead of just texture. Speaking of texture, the cookie's texture is a tad on the crisp side, which is only a slight negative if you are hoping to exactly replicate the Twix experience; otherwise, it's neutral.

The caramel, though, unless you're eating this on a hot afternoon, is a little too stiff. It takes the attention too much and lingers stuck in your teeth after you've chewed everything else. Also not a huge deal, but improving it would make a big difference. This simply isn't very good caramel. While I know that this is still just a candy bar, I'd still like to see better quality caramel than what's in Rolos.

It is basically the same experience as eating a Twix bar, though, which is the idea. This is a much more successful alternative than the wafers were. This could be a genuine replacement. Granted, once you started looking at the ingredients in more detail, you'll find that they're not necessarily the best in the world, either--but like I said, it is still just a candy bar. The chocolate and sugar are supposed to be fair trade and the palm oil is sustainably sourced even if it does have palm oil and it does skip the artificial colors and flavors. So yes, it's a step up.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Non-History History of the Corset

On first picking up The Corset and the Crinoline: An Illustrated History by W. B. Lord, one might assume to be picking up a well-researched, perhaps rather dry non-fiction text that describes all of the contexts in which the corset has been used as well as the various cultures, fabrics, patterns, fashions, and attitudes towards said garment. The title, though, is slightly misleading.

The book begins that way. It begins talking about different historical cultures who used some type of corset (although the title also mentioned crinolines, the main content matter is corsets) and how the style of that garment developed (or rather stayed much the same) over the centuries. All quite interesting, if more brief than I'd expected. Once you pass the book's halfway point, though, you arrive at the middle of the nineteenth century and the text becomes a commentary on the philosophies behind the corset instead of simply a history of the corset.

Because there you have it: this book was originally published in 1868, when the corset was in use in full force. So it becomes quite a biased look and in fact contains a rather draining "conversation" about whether or not corsets are beneficial. There are pages of letters written to a lady's magazine from various people all responding to one another's comments. While I do love reading firsthand accounts and that sort of thing, these were like looking at social media comments. Tedious, biased, and of questionable truth. That is in itself interesting to study but like I said, tedious, especially coming from a modern perspective on corsets.

And no, my perspective isn't that they were simply a horrendous contraption. You have to look at them as a whole. They were horrendous; I can't stand any modern fashion accessory that remotely resembles a corset in terms of tightness. But most women were not wealthy and from what I understand, women who had to work either at jobs or maintaining their households did not wear corsets tightly. And a corset that is simply form-fitting (made specifically for the individual) rather than tightened up isn't entirely unlike the heavy-lifting girdles you still see people using today when doing manual labor. It can in fact be good back support if made and used in a certain way. Part of this includes not tightening over the chest--which even this book makes sure to mention is a bad practice.

So tangent aside, this book is more of a historical text centered around corsets than a history of corsets. You'll learn a little about fashion and materials but not too much. And in fact, you'll learn even less if you're not already familiar with some basic terms. Given that this book was written in 1868, it assumes an 1868 knowledge of clothing. Even crinoline is a word that not all modern readers will be aware of (you would probably know it as a hoop skirt, though it was not always in the shape of a hoop and so was not always called a hoop skirt). I suppose all this means that it's quite a niche title. Still a good read, though, if you are interested in this niche--and there are indeed plenty of illustrations, which is wonderful.

Monday, May 18, 2020

When Did You Read?

Back when the Internet was young and online shopping even younger, I was enchanted by the idea of C.S. Lewis's Poems because of talk that the volume contained some Narnia poetry. Then being obsessed with Narnia, Poems then seemed like the unattainable portal to more Narnia content. Now that some fifteen or more years later I find Poems in my hands, I'm rather glad that I didn't get a copy of it back then.

There isn't much Narnia content in here. Despite the unicorn on the cover, that angle is covered quite thinly. So if that is your sole reason for coming to this book, well, you'll probably be disappointed in that regard. And I would say you're best off if you're already familiar with several of Lewis's writings, maybe a touch of Narnia but more so with his non-fiction or even at times with The Space Trilogy.

The book was put together posthumously and first published in 1964. It loosely goes by topic rather than year since many of these poems are written at unidentified times. And yet from the content and style, you can begin to guess at what point in his life he wrote them.

You see the young man enraptured by his college studies and writing poems about it all. The imaginative mind dreaming up unicorns and gnomes. Quite frankly, though, reading all this as who I am today, these were the pages I found least interesting. They felt more shallow and uninteresting to my mind at this moment. Better I found the reflections on nature versus industry and the pain of life and love.

Poetry is a very honest art form--perhaps even more so if, like many of these, it is not written specifically with publication in mind. So the titles that show with stark honesty all the pain that we cannot shut away or escape in living are the most thought-provoking. You can see the thoughts that were part of certain concepts Lewis explores in both his fiction and non-fiction writings. While a few of these poems are quite nice on their own, overall I'd say this book's best value is as a kind of companion piece to his other works.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Charm School Chocolate: Vanilla Bean White with Caramelized Rice Crisps

I can say it straight out now: I really like milk chocolate and I also very much enjoy white chocolate. That doesn't detract from my love for dark chocolate; they're all different and don't need to be compared to one another. White chocolate, however, is more like dark chocolate (compared with milk chocolate) in that it is less forgiving. Dark chocolate and white chocolate must be good quality for me to eat them. There is so much wonderful dark chocolate on the market these days, but high quality white chocolate is less common. So when I saw this Vanilla Bean White with Caramelized Rice Crisps from Charm School Chocolate at the Zak's Chocolate shop back in early March, I couldn't resist.

I didn't pay much attention to the vegan label. I usually avoid chocolates that use sweeteners other than sugar or honey, but vegan didn't seem like too big of a deal. That just means cutting out the milk and I stopped drinking milk in the 90's before there were thirty milk alternatives on the shelves, so nothing unusual about a milkless white chocolate, right?

But let's back up here. Funny I should mention the 90's as the colors on this bar's packaging remind me of the early 90's. The blue on orange is unappealing to me, as is the overall design. It reminds me somehow of standardized testing in schools. Too many words plus too many little triangles. So I didn't buy this chocolate based on the attraction of the packaging.

The chocolate, though, has a charming design. More geometric design here is balanced out by a smooth face on the left side of the bar. That smooth half also allows better appreciation of the Charm School label/logo. The back of the chocolate shows all the rice crisps peering from beneath the white surface.

At this point, however, I discovered the drawback to this vegan white chocolate: there is a strong coconut aroma. This isn't the first time I've come across coconut in chocolate; Stone Grindz makes a wonderful Coffee & Coconut Milk bar. But that one isn't overwhelmed by coconut flavor--and that one also lists coconut in the name as a "warning" to those of us not overly fond of coconut. (Charm School's milk chocolate bars, by the way, do list the coconut in the name; I'm not sure why the white bars don't. Yes, you can always check the ingredients list, but I usually figure that if something is in the ingredients but not in the name it isn't meant to be part of the flavor.)

This chocolate tastes overwhelmingly of coconut. It almost drowns out all the other flavors. I do taste some vanilla and sugar, as well, but mainly it's coconut. The caramelized rice crisps are thicker and more flavorful than your typical rice crisps. They're an interesting new flavor and texture, quite nice. I do wonder, though, if they would be better suited towards milk chocolate than white chocolate. They're a little too hefty perhaps for white chocolate.

This chocolate isn't bad. It's just a coconut-flavored white chocolate. So if you're into coconut, great. If not, not so much. For me, I am okay with some coconut but this, paired with the rice crisps, is too much for me. As such, I don't find this a successful vegan white chocolate alternative. The coconut is too distracting.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Two Sides of Emma

When Emma Shapplin announced about a month and a half ago that she would be live-streaming a show (not in her living room--in a venue) at the end of May, I was excited about that but I also discovered something else. I hadn't visited her website in years probably so I wasn't aware that you can now buy her two latest albums from her site. I didn't in use fact even know of the existence of the latest one, Venere. But I'd been trying to get my hands on Dust of a Dandy for years.

It's a strange concept in today's world to not be able to get hold of something that you want. I was willing to pay; that wasn't the issue. I just couldn't find anywhere to buy her music. Emma Shapplin is French and she is very popular in Argentina, yet she can be difficult to track down in the U.S. I have the Argentinian release of Carmine Meo: it translates all the songs into Spanish. I paid a pretty penny for the EP Discovering Yourself even though it only has four songs. So yes, I was quite excited to be able to get the two new albums. It didn't seem like great timing to be ordering something from France, so I basically made my order and let myself forget about it, anticipating a long shipping time. The two CDs came yesterday, though, to my great delight.

Now I was aware that most Emma Shapplin fans were disappointed by Dust of a Dandy. Even Macadam Flower had a departure from her previous classical crossover, highly operatic style. But even with more of a quiet pop style, I think that Macadam Flower is great. Sure, it doesn't show off her voice as much as some of her other work, but not all of her albums need to do the same thing, right? So I wanted to at least have the chance to listen to Dust of a Dandy--and I could only do so by buying the album (there are short snippets available online and of course the single is out but that's all).

Dust of a Dandy is like some strange, artsy experiment. If this isn't classical crossover, what genre is it? It has kind of a quiet rock sound sometimes but also it's like a semi-acoustic den cafe somewhere. Maybe someone who knows music can describe the genre to me. Emma did sing for a rock band when she was young and you can see that in this album even more than in Macadam Flower. But it still has that quieter, emotional, explorative quality that Macadam Flower had.

I feel like I shouldn't like this album much. And yet I do; it's strangely addictive. It's raw and earthy. It explores the questions of love and value, beauty and connection, loss and discovery. I may be reading the lyrics wrong, but I get the sense over the course of the album of realizing that what you had was not as good as you thought it was--that you are beginning to see how much more you can value your own interactions with the world and the people in it. So yes, a raw and sensual look at emotion.

Venere is a complete opposite to Dust of a Dandy. It is a return to straight classical, operatic style--almost. Etterna was a distinctly Emma crossover album, but Carmine Meo was more classical and a little less crossover--and Venere is even more classical, well mainly. Orchestral background and the chorus sometimes accompanying. I think there's only one dog barking at the end of one song and I think just one lightning sound; Etterna had I think more random, artsy sounds than that.

Despite being a complete opposite to Dust of a Dandy, the latter album leads quite well into Venere, especially with the final track of "Pie Jesu" (a different song from the usual) to lead in with more of a classical-type sound. Venere takes the lesson learned (in my interpretation of) the raw album and translates it into this atmospheric, operatic, soaring up above the thunderstorm sound. It's kind of like the carnal and then the ethereal. The two albums don't have anything to do with one another and don't even seem like they're by the same artist--except that they're so deeply similar on an emotional level.

And this is why I love Emma Shapplin's style in general. I view art through emotion and so whether she is leaning more to one genre or another, her use of emotion remains the same. She explores the emotional quality of sound through both the music and the diction. Sometimes her ability to put words together in a way that simply sounds right reminds me of John Keats, my favorite poet of the Romantics.

So I am pleased with both of these two albums--looking at them as pieces within the larger framework of Emma's work as a whole. On its own, I probably wouldn't have much (if any) interest in Dust of a Dandy. But as a piece of the whole, I'll take it. And as the prequel to Venere, well, that works strangely wonderfully.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Inside or Outside of the Glass?

It's crazy watching the short film Bubble Wrapped from Keychain Productions/Andrew Lee Potts again. Was it really made ten years ago? It could have been made today.

The film shows a woman who has literally bubble wrapped herself into her house to quarantine herself from a virus; her significant other shows up at the door but she's afraid to let him in because of the risk of catching it from him. Sound familiar?

There's a great twist to it that I don't want to spoil completely (so just go ahead and watch the video now, eh?), but what is also reminiscent of current times is the constant questioning. On one side you hear this; on the other side you hear that. One person is inside the glass and one person is outside the glass, but who is actually safer?

There are obvious correlations to the current situation in the world. But can we take that a step further? What keeps you safe and what puts you in danger? Do you really always know? What keeps those you love safe and what harms them? Do our intentions really always play out the way we mean them to? As in situations like the following. You go on a quiet hike instead of risking a concert after hearing about shootings at big events--but you end up in the small percentage of people who are attacked by a mountain lion. You read a book before bed instead of watching a scary movie and have nightmares about something that happened in the book. You take your family out to dinner and you all get food poisoning. Etc. Add to the list.

We never know the results of our choices. Even the most certain things are uncertain. If I make a right turn, I will end up in that parking lot. No, that car is going to hit you and you'll never make it into the parking lot. I sound so pessimistic but it isn't all bad; these can go in the opposite direction, as well. Something that you think can only be bad can turn out to be good. The point is, we never really see the complete picture. There is an entire orchestration of events going on that we only have a small glimpse of as we make our daily choices.

Because we never do know how things might turn out, how events might flip around, it is best to simply try and make the best decisions we can and live as wholeheartedly as we may. Because you never know, when you try and be the one inside the glass, you might actually turn out to be the one on the outside.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Coffee Break Bar

One of the great things about Zak's Chocolate is that not only do they value using quality ingredients, they also look to other local companies when it comes to those ingredients. They're always doing colabs with other places in the area, whether it's for peanut butter or stout or in this case coffee. In so doing, they create a network hub of interrelated products in which the various small businesses can refer customers to one another. The coffee in this Coffee Break Bar comes from Bergies Coffee in Gilbert. I find myself wishing I lived closer to Gilbert because just a quick look into Bergies online shows that they, too, have some great company values.

Back to this chocolate bar. It comes with the same wonderful cocoa pod design I've come across before, this time with the aroma of strong and freshly ground coffee. The color is a little light for dark chocolate but also a little dark for milk chocolate--more like the shade of candy dark chocolate. Fittingly so: this is a 55% dark chocolate with the added milk and coffee. That's certainly a different and intriguing approach. There are so many definitions about how chocolate must be done. If it's under this percentage, it has to have milk; it it's over that percentage, it shouldn't have milk. Etc. But why shouldn't chocolate with a higher cocoa content have milk?

It tastes instantly of chocolate and coffee. The coffee is strong and bright and the chocolate does come with a milkiness to it. While not actually bitter, the coffee is what I would liken to the bitter element, and the chocolate while also not sweet per se gives that sense of sweetness and creaminess. Since it is in fact dark chocolate, there is nothing of greasiness to this chocolate and it has more depth of flavor than even a high quality and higher cocoa content milk chocolate. As such, it is able to hold its own against the coffee while also giving that creamier element reminiscent of a mixed coffee beverage.

The flavor is completely smooth. No coffee grounds or anything in here. Just smooth, rich, and creamy chocolate tasting of coffee. I would easily say that this is my favorite coffee chocolate bar ever. Both the chocolate and coffee are excellent and the composition is unique and perfect. Milky dark chocolate filled with coffee is quite the indulgence.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

American Victorian & Timeless Style

I was reading American Victorian for a bit of study in Victorian architecture and style, but the book brought up some observations about my theory on style in general. It reminded me that the reason I love Victorian style so much isn't just because I like the wood and the colors and the designs, etc.; it's because I like the theory of Victorian style.

This book was published in 1984 as a kind of guidebook during the Victorian revival of the 1980's; it gives quick outlines on certain traits of Victorian style through the years (the Victorian era covers a wide range of years with significant changes throughout), suggesting how readers might incorporate these elements into their homes in the present day. The message is repeated that only museums need to strive for 100% historical accuracy; homes have the freedom to take the spirit of the style and make it livable. (Using a present day sofa is one of the quickest examples of this.) And that works better with Victorian style than any other historical style because Victorian style was itself eclectic as far as the sources of inspiration and as far as its use of historical elements.

Renaissance, Gothic, Colonial elements all start to reappear during the Victorian era. They might not stand out so much to the casual observer because they're all "old" so they just blend in. But the fact that Victorian style used historical influences (and world influences) means that it's easier to blend in present day influences, as well. 

I have a gorgeous Eastlake etagere in my living room on whose shelves is a clay dinosaur bank from the mid-20th century or thereabouts and I also have a Mary Coulter Southwest side table for my TV and Disneyland silhouettes on another side table and R. Atkinson Fox prints on the walls and a whatnot shelf with cast iron pigeons on it. None of it really "goes together" in the sense of creating a historically Victorian space. It isn't Victorian at all in that sense; I'm not even trying in that sense. But that's the point: I'm the present day Victorian putting together my space. 

The TV and book titles are pretty much the only things in the living room that give away the year of this space. It doesn't look Victorian because there are obvious 20th century elements (even apart from the 21st century things like the TV). But it also doesn't look too much like any one time period in particular--except that it is most highly influenced by the Victorian. As such, even if I were to stay in this space for 50 more years, it would never need "redecorating." It would never need to be updated because it was its own style to begin with. Only those little elements, those little tokens from the present day, would change along the way so seamlessly while the core concept, the central idea of style, remained the same. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

May the Fourth Be With Us

The Fourth may only be here for a couple more hours and may already be over in, ah, most parts of the world. However, I could not let it pass without leaving here the message: May the Fourth Be With You, as it was when I went to visit the Millennium Falcon and when I went on a little ride on a speeder near Savi's Workshop. Ah, I love Black Spire Outpost. I walk its streets in my mind.

The Force will be with you, always. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Great Divorce of Heaven and Hell

Literature students will remember Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." I also remember hearing C.S. Lewis's reaction to such a concept as is presented in the title: he affirmed that no, we should not be combining heaven and hell, but rather separating them. He wrote The Great Divorce based on that idea. Being in the mind to read some more Lewis, I chose to (curbside) pick up this title. The notion of not taking anything from hell with you into heaven felt quite appealing to me right now. I got the idea of something cleansing, I suppose.

Not exactly so, though that isn't a bad thing; it's just slightly different from what I'd expected. I'd also had the impression until I actually looked at the book's page online that this was simply non-fiction like The Problem of Pain or Mere Christianity. Not quite. It's fiction, but more of a direct allegory and less of a novel than Till We Have Faces. It is the story of a man who gets on a bus from hell into heaven--everyone acts like they're just visiting, though whoever chooses to stay can stay.

So this narrator walks around observing the others who came with him on the bus and what he sees in this sort of threshold territory of heaven. So what you are seeing along the way are all the things that are holding these people back from accepting the gift of heaven. The things they won't let go of, the things that they refuse to put in second place, even if it's to put a loving God in first place.

You also see how these things do not practically fit inside of heaven. The book expires the concept of how it is exactly that you literally cannot put hell inside of heaven, nor does hell have any power over heaven. This concept is somewhat reminiscent of Till We Have Faces and certain moments in Narnia, too: it's that sense of not being able to understand or partake until you have given up your old eyes and taken on your new ones.

Probably everyone will find a character in this book that they most identify with (that is, from the people who go up to visit heaven). We all have different weaknesses (I mean, the one that is strongest varies from person to person). What's nice in this book is seeing a physical illustration of how we need only accept the offered gift, we need only place the highest thing in the highest place, in order to be released from our old selves and enjoy ultimate hope.

It's a short book. And honestly, it probably works better if you're coming from a perspective where you believe in Purgatory and/or the whole Hell-as-annihilation-theory-or-whatever-it's-called that Lewis addressed in The Problem of Pain (maybe elsewhere, too, that's just where I know I've seen it). But if you just take it for what it is, a fictional story that is the setting for exploring the concept of the separation of heaven and hell, it's definitely a thought-provoking piece.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Raaka: Bourbon Cask Aged 82% Dark

This Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate bar has been aging in my home for about four months. Now is the time to break into it, eh?

That name is an attention-grabber, certainly, as is the little line calling this "unroasted" chocolate and the mention of maple sugar in the ingredients. These are all new things for me. (Well, maybe not so much the maple sugar: I'm sure I must have had some other chocolate with maple sugar. There is still regular cane sugar in here; it isn't sweetened entirely with maple sugar. That would be new.) Cocoa beans are always roasted before all of the grinding and conching steps begin. Except that Raaka Chocolate chooses to skip the roasting in favor of the "brighter, bolder, fruitier side of cacao." Okay.

And the bourbon casks? Yeah, they're real. They age the cocoa in empty bourbon casks to soak up some flavor. It sounds cool and I don't have anything against it--but I also wonder. If the cocoa is good quality processed with expertise, why do you want to cover up its natural flavor with anything else? Especially if you're trying to get a more raw flavor by skipping the roasting. And if the casks don't add enough flavor that they would be covering up anything, is it really worth going through that step? Maybe I'm just not enough of a foodie. And again, I don't mind; it's a fun concept; I just wonder.

The layered land/mountainous look of the outer wrapping reflects back onto the bar. I've never seen a chocolate mold design quite like these soft ripples. The color is good, and the chocolate gives off a semisweet aroma.

The snap is great, too. Then almost immediately after putting a piece in my mouth, I noticed a difference in texture. It's only slight, but it's almost like the difference between regular chocolate and so-called "raw" chocolate. A little softer and rougher in feel. It's definitely noticeable if you're paying close attention, but necessarily immediately apparent otherwise.

The flavor has that rich, blue taste of cocoa nibs. There is strong and dark cocoa flavor with some tang but no bitterness. The tang increases at about three quarters of the way in but is quickly followed by a touch of sweetness. The finish is the closest this chocolate gets to being bitter, maybe because it's accompanied by a slightly dustier feel than usual. Raaka's notes call this bar "oaky and smooth, with a hint of cherry cordial." That sounds about right: I said strong and dark where they said oaky, no bitterness for smoothness, and sweetness for cherry cordial.

There does appear to be a difference in the flavor based on the decision to skip the roasting step--but without an exact comparison (that is, all steps and ingredients being identical except for the roasting) it's hard to tell what is a result of that or not. The same goes for the bourbon cask aging process.

What I can say is that this is a good bar of chocolate. It's organic and fairly traded (they have a great chart on the inside of the wrapper showing the difference between what they pay for the cocoa and what fair trade requirements are--a quick way of showing that "Fair Trade" doesn't mean there are no issues). The chocolate is beautiful and has great flavor and texture. At 82% cocoa, it delivers a full chocolate hit but has enough of a sense of sweetness to it to be welcoming rather than intimidating. A perfect example of why I've often said that chocolate in the 80% range is my favorite: it can taste more than chocolate in the 70% range and yet not have all of the weightiness of 90% chocolate.

This is a plainer, sleeker style dark chocolate bar. But Raaka also makes some interesting flavors, like Oat Milk and Bananas Foster that have more of a frilly sound. I would be quite curious to see how they approach those.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Disney Family Singalong

Do you remember when YouTube was new? I was in high school and I would watch these videos that young people were making using mediocre cameras to imitate cool cinematography or even try out things like green screens. None of the video quality holds up to today's standards in which everyone is expected to have a good camera and professional lighting, but the creativity was great. It was exciting and so much fun.

That's kind of what the Disney Family Singalong on ABC tonight reminded me of. On the one hand, it's absolutely nothing like the quality that Disney/ABC would put out on TV. A bunch of people filming themselves in their kitchens or bedrooms with their phones. Everything all spliced together with the song lyrics stuck onto the bottom of the screen. Absolutely nothing, right? Nothing compared with a big production on a stage with a live audience and then added digital effects, right?

Except that it was so much fun.

I thought I would turn it on just to see what it was and then either keep it on in the background or turn off the TV. But I was hooked. Obviously, of course, the opening song was great. Derek Hough and all put together a creative piece that still had costumes and choreography and cinematography even if it was just filmed in their kitchens. That was a YouTube video there, such fun.

While the other songs didn't keep up that same quality level because of course you can't really do that on all of them, they were still creative and just positive and encouraging. Whether it was the multiple screens of one performer like with Darren Criss or Ariana Grande, or the use of the green screens like with Amber Riley, the editing kept the screen moving even if there wasn't much to actually film. Or sticking Luke Evans and Josh Gad on a frame on Alan Menken's piano--stuff like that is cool.

Then as you do get into the group stuff, the possibilities are all there. The High School Musical cast brought in the feels, Jordan Fisher brought in lighthearted fun and all the choreography, and the Donny Osmond bit put all the family emotions out there. And of course I'm sure we all loved the pets that made their appearances. I think Christina Aguilera's dog just sleeping on the bed next to her was my favorite.

The things we can do when everything that we're used to relying on is gone. No, you can't all practice this scene together and perform it live on a stage. But yes, you can all film yourselves dancing with your phone and we'll edit it together so that it looks like you're all dancing together. Isn't that great? This is nothing profound of me to say and this one hour show was nothing profound, either. But it was fun, despite being nothing like what Disney would normally put out--and I just can't get over how wonderful that is.

It's a reminder of what makes things enjoyable. Yes, we love Disney because of their superb quality level, and I'm sure we'll all be happy to have big productions back. But they could do something like this because these are songs that we all know and love. They came up with a creative way to do something, and it worked. That's the way so many things are right now: we're kind of just reinventing our way of approaching it all. That's why many of the ideas that have come up or new ways of doing things are going to stick around even after the world normalizes again.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Clove & Hive Honey Sticks

I did have a chance to visit the Renaissance Festival on I think the first weekend of March before it had to close up early. This was the first year in which I was actually considering going a second time, how about that? So I thought I'd take a moment in which we can all reminisce about novelties by sharing my thoughts on the honey sticks that I got there from The Clove and Hive.

Usually honey sticks are either plain or flavored--so when we see honey sticks set out with different labels, we expect those labels to say things like Strawberry, Raspberry, Cherry, etc. So at first glance some people might be a little taken aback to see labels like Avocado and Eucalyptus. But these aren't that type of honey stick, remember: those aren't what the honey has been flavored with, those are the plants that the bees were hanging around when making their honey.

Isn't that fun? Usually our honey choices are limited to spring blooms, fall blooms, clover, citrus, or desert blooms here in the Southwest. Things like that. So getting this range of origins to explore in honey is like taking it into chocolate or wine tasting boundaries--or just making a fun game out of honey sticks.

There were twelve flavors, visible in either light or dark color.

Star Thistle is sweet and light and golden. Buckwheat is rich and dark, reminding me of farmland and open air and plants. Meadowfoam was light and sweet in a floral way; I felt like a hummingbird drinking its nectar. Wildflower is rich and syrupy, while Orange is light and golden.

Coffee is richer, almost bitter if honey could be bitter; its sweetness is deeper and paler. Eucalyptus is light and sweet with a spring in its step and some richness to it. Avocado is one of the darker-colored honeys and it tastes thicker and more syrupy, almost like agave nectar or molasses but lighter and sweeter than molasses.

The Dark Buckwheat is very rich, like leather and liquor but with a sweet core because once again, it's still honey. Blackberry is mild in flavor with a floral tone. Mojave Buckwheat somehow has both richness and lightness, so rich yet also mild; it would make a great standard honey. And Organic Clover is light with an earthy undertone that makes it almost slightly bitter; the floral tone of its sweetness reminds me somewhat of the Blackberry.

Ah, I love when foods offer so much variation. Whatever you do, don't buy the generic honey bears. Whether you find some cool flavors or just get the spring blooms or just buy whatever local honey you see without even reading all the details, treat yourself to some good honey on a daily basis. And when you do get a chance to try out some cool honey sticks from Clove & Hive or someone else, go for it. The simple pleasures make life sweet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Easter Selection

For those in either the Phoenix area or up near Prescott, there are still some great Easter chocolate options available. Both Zak's Chocolate in Scottsdale and Black Butterfly in Prescott are offering online ordering with at-store pick-up (Zak's will also ship). I do need to try some of Black Butterflies Easter chocolates someday; they're gorgeous. But not this year. This year I'll stick with Zak's since they're closer to me (and you can also buy a gift card from either shop online if you want to support them but can't get to the store). And yes, I will make a comment like that about Black Butterfly in a Zak's Chocolate review because I love that we have a few good chocolate companies in Arizona now, so there doesn't need to be any harsh competition among them. They each have their own style and their own, unique qualities. (And yes, I do believe we're past the pre-order deadline for Black Butterfly's Easter offerings, anyways, so I'm not sure if there is additional availability now, anyways.)

For Easter at Zak's Chocolate, you can order Easter egg truffles in four flavors and various types of chocolate bunnies, some filled, some hollow, some small, some large, and one filled with marshmallow. The bunnies come in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate, your choice. If you are wondering about how the pick-up process works, they have all the info on their site to make it nice and simple: you order online and then call when you arrive and they set it out on a table for you and you can say hi from a distance and then get your bag once they go in. Nice and simple.

While they do have larger bunnies, I stuck with the small ones. So I got one small dark chocolate bunny, one milk chocolate bunny with marshmallow inside, and all four of the egg flavors. They came each sealed in their own bag, with stickers easily marking which is which. It's hard to beat a dark chocolate bunny from Zak's: you won't get this quality from the grocery store.

The marshmallow bunny is filled with such a tender, melt-in-your-mouth, genuinely marshmallow-flavored marshmallow that I'm ever so pleased with it. Marshmallow has more of a candy feeling if you're used to more casual Easter offerings, but marshmallow like this is so excellent as to still have that gourmet effect. And again, even with this being milk chocolate, it is quality milk chocolate with much more flavor than you will find in the average Easter chocolate (and it's without all that oil, too).

The eggs are all in half shapes, with one side being rounded and one flat. They're about truffle size with colored speckles on them. The style works for both adults and children, for both the casual or the formal setting.

The Marshmallow Caramel has a layer of the marshmallow I've already admired along with a layer of liquid caramel above that. The vanilla-tasting caramel only adds to experience. This is gourmet reimagining of candy, a piece that will be welcome to a variety of tastes. (Which is probably why they're sold out of this one for the season already--sorry.)

The Peanut Butter egg uses peanut butter from local company PB Americano (click here for my review of their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter). It isn't so much a peanut butter filling as a peanut-butter-flavored-and-colored truffle-like filling. Very light and almost liquid-like. Peanut butter doesn't excite me much (does that mean I'm not American enough?), but if you're going to do a peanut butter truffle egg, this is the way to do it. It's very nice.

Even though the Chocolate Mint is next in the picture, I'll bring the Malted Milk in before that one. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a reimagining of Whoppers. I didn't think I had any special affection for Whoppers, but biting into this was like biting into nostalgia. I should have taken pictures of the inside of these eggs. This egg is like a Whopper--but also nothing like a Whopper. It's what the adult mind who might remember Whoppers fondly wishes Whoppers were actually like when biting into them at Halloween or something like that and promptly becoming disappointed. The chocolate is sweet and rich and the malt is solid but also soft and full of creamy, malty flavor. Wow.

Okay, now for that Chocolate Mint. This is the most colorful one with faintly blue speckles. The inside is a mint-flavored chocolate ganache. Pretty straightforward. This type of thing usually tastes pretty much the same wherever it comes from: if everyone is using the same mint oil, the mint oil just overpowers the chocolate and so that's the flavor you will taste every time. But this one tastes a little different. The mint is edgier. Still, though, this is a classic flavor, so it is mainly what you would expect from a mint truffle.

I'm quite thrilled. Chocolate bunnies are the classic Easter chocolate. And I like my little dark chocolate bunny, but the marshmallow bunny and the Marshmallow Caramel and Malted Milk eggs stole the show for me. Once again, I love when someone can do a gourmet spin on candy. That's something that's easy to talk about and plenty of places pretend that that's what they're doing, but I rarely come across true examples of that concept--even when I was back on Chocablog looking at more of a variety of confections from across the country. To bring in the skill and the quality with the sweetness and the nostalgia is quite thrilling and perfect for Easter chocolates.

Oh, yes, and since it's Zak's Chocolate, this is all fair trade chocolate--which as I've mentioned really seems like it ought to be the norm for Easter chocolate especially.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Reflections on Watching TLOTR Again

The Lord of the Rings was my escape in middle school. The light/dark theme and the extremely detailed fantasy made it the perfect story to contemplate during that time. I could simultaneously escape into it and also gain hope. I would read over those books again and again and I'd watch the movies again and again and there was always so much to hold my mind.

I just finished rewatching the movies for the first time in at least three years. What used to take three nights took me about a month, splitting each movie into two separate nights and scattering the six nights. And wow, I can see why I loved that story so much.

"I wish none of this had happened. I wish the Ring had never even come to me." "So do I. And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Possibly misquoting Frodo and Gandalf talking there in The Fellowship of the Ring. I always liked that quote, and it stood out to me again. When something happens to you that you really do not like, when you must face something that you really do not want to face, there is no preventing it except by actively causing something much worse. So you must simply do the best at what is before you. It's simple and yet heartbreaking.

I always felt Frodo's struggles with the Ring--Gollum's, too. (Which makes more sense than you might first think when you consider that, in a literary sense, Frodo and Gollum are almost the same character--but that's another topic.) Life can be hard, eh?

And the Shire is beautiful and so is Rivendell and even Mount Doom is in a certain sense. And Galadriel is the best; I want to be Galadriel. But in college, I also came to really love Eowyn's healing story (which of course is only barely touched on in the films, and then only in the Extended Edition, but still). Her healing story is especially comforting to me right now.

New things I observed on watching again after years? The battle scenes are really hard to watch. I'm reminded why The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite movie of the three: it has the least fighting. Granted, they're good battle scenes, but battles in books just take a few pages, whereas in movies they tend to take up the majority of the minutes. And it's growing more and more difficult for me to watch violent images. I can't really take it anymore.

So that's why I prefer Gandalf and Frodo sitting in the dark in Moria talking about the metaphorical battle between good and evil versus literally watching the good soldiers fight the bad soldiers. Good versus evil. Light and dark. My head continues to swirl with it.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Some Things Delayed; Some Things New

What's happened is that the whole world started building fear and anxiety at the same time that I was facing my own fears and anxieties completely apart from the issue the world is facing. So the general fear sometimes added to mine and sometimes distracted from mine. It's kind of been a reminder that whatever is or isn't happening and whatever fears are shared and whichever are just individual, there are always terrible and/or difficult things going on in this world. It's a fallen world, remember?

But Light persists through it all.

So anyways, I just wanted to ease back into blogging by reflecting on the things that I would have blogged about if everything hadn't been shut down. The things that I have missed. But also the things that have been coming up that wouldn't have otherwise.

This past weekend would have been Arizona Opera's last production of the season, Ariadne auf Naxos. No opera. Last month, I was considering going to Phoenix Symphony's Disney in Concert. No Disney. (I was also thinking of going to Disneyland again in April; no Disneyland.) I've been skipping more of Southwest Shakespeare's plays, anyway, I guess, but I had thought at least to go to Hudson in April. No plays. No movies, either. I was really looking forward to Mulan. Now the release date has been officially moved to late July, but whether or not that'll even hold remains to be seen.

I'd also thought to watch the Jeremy Camp movie, I Still Believe. It did have about a week in theaters before the theaters shut down, but I don't think we were all rushing out to see it first thing so I'm sure I'm not the only one who missed it. They did recently release it to rent online, though, which is nice. I haven't rented a movie online in years (I'm one of the few people who still gets Netflix DVDs). It's a good story for this moment in time, too: it's a story about knowing that life will bring terrible/difficult things and yet also knowing that there is hope beyond all of that. Jeremiah 31:17 -- "There is hope in thine end," that's what I've been thinking about lately.

And there is much more streaming going on, too, not just movie rentals. Plays and operas and concerts are going online. Pretty much everyone is trying to at least offer something (museums are showcasing pictures online or even doing virtual tours). This weekend I got the exciting news that Emma Shapplin is doing a live concert at the end of May. It can be difficult to even track down her music (from the U.S. at least), and I hadn't heard anything new of her in quite a while. Given that and the fact that I'll probably never see her live, that news kind of made my day.

Some some things have been delayed or canceled. Some expectations have been burst. Some new things have come up. Some new enjoyment has been created. This is life: you never know exactly what will happen but you do know that some of it won't be nice and some of it will be (and that of course applies to more than just shows and movies).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Spring Sunlight

I often end up a little scarce during spring, don't I? There are many reasons for it. One is that, as beautiful as spring is, I also find it sort of agitating/restless. Especially in Arizona where the weather can constantly be moving from one extreme to the other during this time of year, my energy and state of mind end up being affected. Then given that spring is lovely, there are often more things to do this time of year, whether those be events/festivals or state parks. Thirdly, spring was one of the busiest times of the year where I used to work--and this year it's turned out to be one of the busiest times ever for the place I'm currently at due to all the, um, concerns gripping the country right now. So with working more, trying to enjoy the spring, and also feeling off base because of the spring (and because of some other reasons that I might get into at some later point), the posts have once more suffered.

Yesterday when I got into the car, my phone lit up with such-and-such many minutes to such-and-such park. I thought, yes, I've done it. It takes a few weeks for your phone to register a new workplace as Work, or for it to know that you're headed to church on Sunday mornings--and a few weeks for it to know that you go to the park every Monday morning. You see, I was never into gyms and I always thought I wasn't the type of person who goes to run at the park. But then in January I was thinking many things and in a way wasn't sure of certain things about my identity (I'm talking about inherent vs. learned traits). So I thought that that was a great time to start being "the type of person who goes to the park."

I alternate walking and jogging; you can use the length of songs to help set the pace. I just do one quick loop and then go home. I hadn't run since freshman year of high school fifteen years ago, so even that wore me out the first couple times. Now I'm fairly used to it and the time passes quickly and I can more focus on the fresh air and the trees. And now is a good time for that. We all need some fresh air and exercise right now.

Everyone is trying to stay home and so many things are being closed or canceled (bye, next month's opera or the opening of Mulan). But depending on where you live, you may still be able to get outside. Whether it's walking at the park, sitting in your back yard, or going to a trail, these things don't put you in close contact with other people and probably don't even require touching anything while you're out either. We need the sunlight for body and mind.

Edit 3/25: I don't know if I was clear enough. I do mean outdoor things that do not put you around lots of people. If the park or trail or wherever is full of people, skip it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Two Old Women of Alaska

The best thing about buying used book is coming across random or sometimes even out-of-print books that you might never have otherwise even heard of. Sure, sometimes I like running into a good deal--but mainly I buy my books new and just look to the used book places for the cool finds. I've developed quite a collection of them, too, so maybe I can pick up the pace and start reading more again.

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis was a great place to start. It's only about 130 small pages, so fast readers might be finished with it in an hour (I am not a fast reader). First published in 1993, it is a story that Velma Wallis preserves from her Athabascan heritage. Usually I gather stories like this from the Southwest since that's my zone (and it's also Southwestern stories that I'm most likely to come across), so departing up to Alaska and the Arctic Circle was a bit of an adventure.

And yet also a familiar one. The straightforward writing style reminded me not so much of Native American stories (though this is an oral tradition, more people are putting these into writing, just as Velma Wallis was putting her people's oral stories into writing) but more of Little House on the Prairie. Maybe it's because there is no magical/mythological element, just a simple, factual approach. In the same way that Laura described how they would make butter or harvest hay, Velma describes the events that the two women in this story go through and all the tasks that they approach.

This is the story of age versus youth, of weakness versus strength, of hopelessness versus resolve. It's a simple story, so you could tell it all in a couple of sentences if you wanted to. But it plays out very well exactly as it is. It's a story about survival in a harsh land, and yet it is strangely relevant even to those of us who will never have to live off of the land. It is strangely relevant, as well, to modern living because it is a reminder to respect those who were born before us because they have things they can teach us, just as we have ways we can benefit their lives if only we will.

It's a story about endurance but it is also a story about community. And I find that particularly resonating today. It's so easy to be without an actual community these days that many times it is deliberate acts that keep us in communities. And by community I don't just mean a couple close friends; those are great, but we need friends, family if possible, and also relationships with people who are not entirely like us. Wonderful things happen when different generations interact with each other.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Trains, Trains, and More Trains

Boys do love their trains, don't they? Okay, I know you can't generalize, but that would be the generalization, wouldn't it be? (And I of course mean boys of all ages.) Not being one of the boys in love with trains, I wouldn't even have been aware of Arizona Railway Day at the Arizona Railway Museum last weekend--nor was I even aware of the Arizona Railway Museum. But sometimes even events that you wouldn't have thought of on your own are still quite nice.

The museum is free on Railway Day. It's small, so you're mainly outside looking at the trains. They had more trains open than normal to walk into. You could blow the horn on the above train, which is fun even for those with the very most casual train interest. 

Don't fear to step in front of this train; it isn't going anywhere. 

The cars there were from a variety of eras, some as early as Edwardian, some mid-century, and some later. There were dining areas and sleeping areas and passenger areas like the one below. These seats were much more comfortable than modern plane seats. 

You could also walk through I guess it would be called the engine room on one of the trains. Can you tell how interested I was in that part?

One of the cars had some displays of vintage dishes from particular trains or train stops. There was also some info on the Harvey Girls (quick history: trains would stop at certain locations long enough for passengers to dine and the Harvey Girls were the ones serving them). That being closer to my era of history, this was one of my favorite sections. 

As were also the older train cars. This little sink and cabinet speak of a time not long after the (previous) turn of the century. 

A great cabinet and typewriter, too. 

And just look at the wood details and the glass. Now that's the type of train I'm interested in. 

The day was sunny and gorgeous, so spending a late morning outside walking in and out of a collection of trains was unexpectedly great. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Riders Ride Once More

Riders of the Purple Sage is the first opera that I have seen a second time. I caught Arizona Opera's world premiere of it three years ago and was quite happy to see it coming back again this season. (Click here to read that original post.) Essentially it was the same production, with perhaps some adjustments to the sets. So I have already talked about the music, Ed Mell's artwork, and the themes.

The question is, how does this opera appear on a repeat viewing? Was it just exciting because it was different (a Western opera)? Was it just beautiful because of the moving-painting-screen backdrop? Sure, those are great, but no, there is something more to this piece that made it a pleasure to revisit.

My favorite part remains Jane's song at the beginning of Act II. That is this opera. It is the extension of the self over the landscape. It is the absorption of the beauty all around and the expression of the harshness--and the vocalized resolution to embrace that which is good. The Southwest makes for such a great fictional setting because it is a land rich with color, texture, and life, and yet it is also a land that is deadly if you take a wrong step. That delicate way of walking is essentially the way that Jane tries to walk, believing so strongly in her faith and yet realizing that the very churchmen who claim to uphold it in her community are not living out love and faith.

So that is what makes Rider of the Purple Sage a lovely piece to revisit. Its embracing of the Southwest is enough to make it an anthem for Arizona Opera. But its way of capturing that duality of the desert makes it into the anthem for Arizona (or the Southwest) as a whole.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Happiness, Joy, and Peace

Happiness, joy, and peace are three very different things. It is possible to have them all at once, but those moments are kind of rare in the grand scheme of things. The first two words in particular are sometimes used interchangeably, and so it is that I often find myself defining the difference between them. Now I find it important to introduce that third element as well.

We each get happy over different things. I am happy when I go to Disneyland, when I find a cool new chocolate bar to review, when I finish washing the dishes, when I'm watching my bearded dragon eat her morning salad, or when I see a really great bolt of lightning. None of these are bad things. But they don't really matter much in and of themselves. Some of them are fairly superficial and unimportant in a certain sense.

Joy is a little different. Think of things like seeing a newborn in your family for the first time or spending time with people you care about (not for the sake of the place or activity but for the sake of the time together) or your first kiss with someone. See what I'm getting at? Joy starts moving outside of the self. Happiness is self-centered. It can involve others, but it's mainly about you and things happening to you. Joy is more about connection. It can still be solitary, depending. But it mainly involves a connection outside of yourself. And this would be why the phrase "the joy of the Lord:" that's ultimate connection outside of the self.

And peace, peace is certainty and assurance. Peace can exist outside of and apart from happiness; it can even exist inside sadness. Peace is greater than the worries of the current moment in time. And peace is what allows you to fully enter and appreciate those moments of joy, and peace is what helps you to be thankful for the happinesses rather than expecting the things (the Disneyland or the ownership of an exotic pet) to be things that you must possess in order to be content.

Maybe peace is being, joy is interacting, and happiness is receiving. I mean, you receive peace and joy, too, but I was trying to build a nice and neat sentence there. And it loops it all back around, right? Receiving joy and receiving peace are, as I mentioned, what can bring you back around to gratefully receiving happiness. So as I started with, the three are interrelated but don't necessarily always overlap.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Scottsdale's Parada del Sol

Think of the Pony Express as the token of a bygone era, a phrase long passed away? That may be so, but the Pony Express is also still alive. It still runs its route once a year from northern Arizona down to Old Town Scottsdale, where a celebration kicks off the Parada del Sol the next morning. I have not yet been to see the Pony Express mail delivered, but this year I did finally make it to the Parada del Sol.

Scottsdale founder Winfield Scott and his wife.

The day begins with the Parada itself. Not really being overly a parade person, I took my time getting in and only caught about the second half (maybe less) or the parade. It's a community parade, with local schools, organizations, some knights in armor, and plenty of horses. Families are going to go to see their kids in the parade and so that their other children can have fun and get candy. If you love horses, there are some absolutely beautiful horses. And people in general are going to go because it's just a celebration of Scottsdale and central Arizona--and that's great.

There were horses wandering around afterwards, too.

After the parade, you have the rest of the day to enjoy the Trail's End Festival and the Arizona Indian Festival. Though they're all pretty much the same thing for the casual attendee, there is a division between them. The Trail's End Festival takes place in the street (which is of course closed off for the day) and the Arizona Indian Festival is off to the side in the Civic Center Plaza. After glancing at the food options available in the main area (these are the things that are important to me), I headed to the Plaza area first.

This park-like area is a wonderful, quiet place to spend time even when there isn't a festival. And during the festival, if you walked just a little apart, it also gave a chance for a quieter atmosphere for anyone needing a break from all the noise and people. The Indian Festival had vendors selling art and jewelry--a great opportunity if you're in the market for those. Of course there was fry bread for sale. There were kids' activities and cultural demonstrations. Various tribes also had booths to share their culture, and plenty of spots were giving info on tourist sites and tours, that sort of thing. Which is quite nice: there are many beautiful places to visit that are on tribal land, where there are separate rules about how to do things. So it's nice that they have people there who can answer questions or let you know what you might need to visit some of these places (whether a specific spot needs a permit and how to get one of if you can only go on a guided tour, that sort of thing).

Back in the Trail's End zone, there were more kids' activities. Plenty of them free, so this really is a great family event. There were three stages, as well. Two with bands, the style of music you'd expect at a community event, and then the Fiesta Stage had Mexican music and dancing.

I admit that I did skip out on the historical reenacting group. I'm not into focusing on gunfights and prostitutes--the nineteenth century and the history of the West and of Arizona are much more than that. So that's media, not history. What about the settlers and the ranchers--or hey, what about what all the rest of the festival is about? It kind of clashed to me.

Now back to the food. I wanted to scout it all out before I decided on anything because the one thing I was allowing myself to spend money on was food. (I had expected there to be more vendors than there were, so I had already beaten it into my head to not get overwhelmed by all the nice jewelry or whatever caught my eye.) They had some of the fair food type things and burgers and the fry bread. But I was trying to decide between tacos from this truck or that truck--so I got some from both. And they were both very good--and I don't say things like that lightly. So A+ on the food.

I sat for a while enjoying the sun after I'd eaten and watching the dancing. My favorite things were the food and the horses--and you know what, also the sun. It was an almost hot day for being winter, the type of day where you're glad for an excuse to just get outside.