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.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Antidote: Rose Salt + Lemon

Some chocolate companies have an intense marketing/design team behind them. Antidote Chocolate appears to be one of those companies. Maybe it's largely due to the vision of founder Red Thalhammer; maybe it's because she knows how to build a good team. But Antidote is oozing with that cool and hip vibe. You can see it in the design. You can see it in the words on the packaging and on their website. There are references to the Greek goddess of youth, Hebe, and to chocolate as an antidote to whatever is troubling you (stress, hunger, sadness, low energy, etc.). And of course there is the obligatory talk about the Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional cocoa and about how it's all direct trade.

When things are marketed so "well" and on trend you almost begin to wonder if it's too much. Trends change, after all. But style is just style, and flavor remains apart from all that (or does it? what do the blind taste tests show?).

Sadly, I once again have some chocolate with very bad bloom on it. And this isn't due to an impending expiration date: that isn't until a year from now. That's Arizona, I guess. This is why there used to be no chocolate makers in Arizona, eh? It's winter right now, so this damage must have taken place a while ago. I wonder if it happened when it was being shipped to the little shop where I bought it, and then it's been sitting in that little shop with no one buying it for months since that time . . .

Anyway. This naturally would have been quite an attractive bar before the bloom. The back of the bar has a look almost like chocolate bark, with the salt and lemon peel sprinkled onto it. The front has round bumps on the squares that spell out "Antidote." These are the chocolate pills you can pop as the antidote to whatever ails you. Personal preference here: it's nice to consider good quality chocolate as something you can turn to when you need a little something special, but do we really want to make light of the concept of pill-popping?

The chocolate has a straightforward, Ghirardelli type semisweet chocolate aroma. I tasted it first with the salt side down. The salt almost tasted smokey for a second, but no, that wasn't it at all, it was just salt. The chocolate unfortunately didn't want to melt. A combination of this being winter and therefore the chocolate being currently at a cooler temperature and also the damage done by the blooming. So I went ahead and chewed the chocolate a little; I didn't want to sit with it an hour until it became warm enough to melt.

In this fashion, I did get a slight bitterness early on. I think that was mainly because I got a full hit of the chocolate instead of easing into it: this chocolate really isn't what I'd normally call bitter. It's warm and red and nice. The salt was gone by the time I got to the chocolate and I didn't notice any rose or lemon flavors. The chocolate's flavor stayed pretty much the same the whole time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just the way it is.

Going with the salt side up for the second piece, I started on a little chewing again, then tried to keep up a light chew rather than settling in for melting. This way the salt was able to mix in with the flavor of the chocolate more. This time, the feeling was more of a chocolate spread, which was kind of a cool effect. This happened both because of the way that the salt worked in and because of the texture. There's something about this chocolate's texture that feels different, a little thicker. I can't say grainy, just thicker somehow.

By this point, I was really wondering about the missing rose and lemon. So I turned to the ingredients list and finally realized that rose and salt are not two separate words: it is fact rose salt. I've come across plenty of flavored salts, but never rose salt. It doesn't seem to make sense: isn't rose too tender to stand up to the bold taste of salt? No wonder I don't taste any rose. I tried licking the salt on the bar to see if I could taste it in a more isolated way like that, but I still just tasted salt. Granted, the salt did taste a little different to me on that first bite, but that doesn't mean that I ever tasted rose.

Now, not being one to favor lemon chocolate, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the lemon element, but still, where is it? I did end up with a tiny piece of lemon peel in my mouth at one point, so I could taste it then when it was by itself like that. But that's different. And it did make me see why the lemon is nigh invisible: the lemon peel pieces are pretty tiny. Going subtle on lemon is probably a good thing, but maybe if the pieces were just a little bigger, they'd be part of the flavor instead of just images on the packaging.

So this is mainly just salted chocolate. I mean, it's possible that because this chocolate has been through some temperature changes or whatnot, that affected the flavors. But I doubt it affected things that much. As salted chocolate, it's nice. It's a good level of salt. Not overly salty and yet not super subtle either. Given that Antidote focuses on flavored chocolate, I would have preferred my first look at their products to be something with a little more flavor going on, something a little bolder maybe. But this was good. It's a solid, widely-appealing dark chocolate base with some fun flavor added in.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Aurora, Little Women, & Artistic Release

Okay, last week I was listening to Breaking Benjamin while writing about Puccini's La Boheme. This week I'm taking it one step further and comparing the generation of the latest version of "Dear Agony" with Southwest Shakespeare's production (by Tier 5) of "Meg Jo Beth Amy & Louisa."

I can't just talk about the play because my feelings on it are mixed. On the one hand, it delivered striking emotional chords the likes of which I don't remember seeing since the January 2017 Hamlet (oh, that was one was amazing). On the other, I'm uninterested in mixing things up and modernizing things just for the sake of mixing up and modernizing--for instance, why does the audience get so excited whenever they add in cuss words, is that really that creative?

And I also can't just talk about "Dear Agony." It's part of Breaking Benjamin's new acoustic album, Aurora, and it has the exciting first collaboration with Lacey Sturm formerly of Flyleaf (their Memento Mori is probably my top album of all). So I can say, yeah, that's a great song and so is the story about how they came to collab and the possibility of them doing a whole album together. Her comment to him about how the song is Jesus in Gethsemane is really a reflection of the relation between art, the artist, and the processing of emotion.

And that's where we come back to the play. It is so-titled as it is because it shows Lousia May Alcott writing Little Women and fighting with her publisher over what she doesn't want to write (we all know she had no interest in writing a book for little girls). She is literally onstage with her characters, deciding what they will do, trying to find a connection by writing about her own family, and then along the way realizing that she is invested in this story because it has become something that she does care about.

On one hand, Little Women is as flat as her publisher wanted. On the other, it is quite a contrast to other moral stories of the day and that's why it has continued to be read even today. She did what was asked and somehow tweaked it just enough that it wouldn't be too shocking as to not be published and yet that it would be enough that it would subtly start to shift things. Meg's Mishaps particularly stands out to me; she didn't just write about the good wife, she wrote about a young wife crying over the jelly that didn't jell and getting into the first friction with her husband over buying expensive clothing fabric. So Louisa wrote the moral tale--but she somehow also wrote real at the same time.

What does this have to do with Breaking Benjamin and Lacey Sturm? Throughout the play, we see Louisa struggling with her relationship not just to her publisher but also to her past and to her family and to her society and to herself. Through the creation of the book and the unraveling of her memories that comes with it, she is able to forgive people in her life (whether her sister or her father), to appreciate things in her life (particularly her sisters), and to better come to terms with her place in the world. So it is essentially an emotional unwinding process. Like what led to the Aurora collaboration.

On the one hand, you have Benjamin Burnley writing a rock song with whatever inspiration. Then Lacey Sturm comes in (I love that picture of them where she doesn't even come close to reaching his shoulder) saying, this is what your song is about. And then he in a way agrees to take on that interpretation by inviting her to collab with him on the new version. So the song starts angling into a new or perhaps simply more full meaning as the artist's relationship with it develops. Emotional unwinding.

The play is over, but here is the Spotify link to the Aurora version of "Dear Agony."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Valerie Confections: Grand Elle Assortment

Normally I steer clear of Valentine's Day chocolates (and honestly of Valentine's Day itself, as well, do you not find it odd also?); however, I've always found Valerie Confections enticing and last year I started working my way into their Valentine's Day offerings. I looked then at the Grand Homme Assortment, so this year it's the Grand Elle Assortment. You really don't have to choose these based on whether you're buying for a man or a woman. Everyone's palate is going to be different, so just go off of what they (or you, if they're for yourself) tend to like best. Though I'd thought that the Pour Homme flavors sounded more appealing, it turns out that I definitely favor the Pour Elle chocolates.

Instead of the bold red ribbon of the other box, this one has a soft pink. And the chocolates inside are so pretty and feminine. The addition of those four white roses just does me in. I mean, I fell for Valerie Confections over their Rose Petal Petit Fours, so I guess I'm already weak in the knees for rose chocolate from them. It's the same type of set as the Grand Homme box, except that you have the roses instead of more little hearts and the most plentiful (and also alcohol-flavored) chocolates are rounded instead of sharp and angled in shape. And the flavors are quite different.

Liquid Caramel Hearts - I had to start with these because I'm finally getting actual caramel. Yes, it's liquid caramel, not toffee masquerading under the name of caramel. It's excellent caramel, too, tasting of vanilla and sweetness to balance out the semisweet dark chocolate. Using dark instead of milk chocolate here gives it more of a classy feel. I do really have to emphasize that the caramel is great because that's what makes Valerie great, elements like that. These aren't quite what I consider confections and not quite truffles, either; they're "chocolates," if that distinction makes any sense to anyone other than me. There are three of these in the box.

Champagne Truffles - These are the round dots of milk chocolate that are most plentiful in the box. They're smooth-looking like fabric-covered buttons on an elegant settee. They taste like decadence and elegance, too. This is what I mean by chocolates rather than truffles or confections. These chocolates make me feel pampered like a 19th century Parisian lady lounging around in silk and lace and perfume. The smooth ganache has a definite champagne flavor but also lots of cream and a light chocolate flavor. It's more reminiscent of a chocolate cream than a traditional champagne truffle. So indulgent.

Blushing Berry Truffles - These are the three squares with little red specks of dried rose petals on top. The ganache here is a little firmer and the chocolate a little thinner than in the Champagne Truffles. Immediately you get a rich berry flavor that doesn't taste so much like a specific berry but more like a medley. It tastes like a berry jam spread on scones at an afternoon tea served on flowery china outside with a view of a grassy lawn or a forest. Again, elegant and feminine.

Rose Petal Passion Fruit Truffles - The pictures don't show how great these look in person. White roses with just a little gold painted on them. They look so special, like wow, that's done just for me--that means I'm so special to have these. Initially I felt like I enjoyed the rose taste but would maybe have preferred not to have the greater pizzaz of the passion fruit. But as the bite went on, I literally fell in love (kind of a repeat of the Petit Four experience). Rose is a watery sort of flavor and passion fruit has more zing, so the two come together to create something that dances between flavorful and gentle. The white chocolate is perfect here because it just gives creaminess to everything. Milk chocolate and passion fruit with be too cloying and this would be too harsh with dark chocolate; so white chocolate is the best. The aftertaste is rose. This chocolate makes me feel female. It puts me in the rose garden at the Huntington Library, or sitting in the tea room and then strolling through the art galleries. No surprises as to which truffle is my favorite, eh?

Bittersweet Hearts - And we'll finish with the simplest item. These are the two big hearts with stripes. They're just plain dark chocolate, which is kind of disappointing. I was a big fan of the Almond Toffee Hearts in the Pour Homme box. And I don't go to Valerie Confections for plain chocolate. I mean, they're nice chocolate hearts. A light bitter twinge and a little sweetness move toward a nice warm and red finish; it's pleasant, balanced chocolate. But I would have preferred to have more truffles, or some other type of flavored something. I can see how someone who doesn't have stacks of chocolate bars at home like I alway seem to might enjoy getting some plain chocolate, too, but that's just not what I prefer in this context.

Even so, my overall opinion on this box was much more favorable than with the Pour Homme box. So maybe they're aptly named after all? I didn't dislike anything in here, I was okay with the plain chocolate, I greatly enjoyed all four truffles, and I loved most of them. Visually they're appealing and flavor-wise they set up beautiful imagery. This is chocolate to spoil a girl, for sure. And I use that diction on purpose: yes, there will be men who like this chocolate and women who don't and women who like this chocolate but also like rich and dark truffles that focus on cocoa origins more than floral additions, but this chocolate selection expresses that traditional concept of femininity. And I'm really into it.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Me to We: 65% Dark Chocolate

Here I have the second fair trade chocolate bar that I found at Barnes & Noble last month. At just under $4, at first I thought it was kind of inexpensive (especially given that, if anything, chocolate would probably cost more at Barnes & Noble than at another place), but then I noticed that it is only 40 grams. About half the usual size means it's about the usual price for this tier of chocolate. And I'm always up for a smaller chocolate bar. One, it does make the price tag look lower even if the price per ounce is the same. Two, it encourages eating less chocolate--which is something that I think should be part of the whole move toward fair trade cocoa (and yes, I am aware that by reviewing chocolate I am in a sense promoting eating more, not less, chocolate--but I'm also promoting awareness and appreciation, which can in turn help limit).

And I can go on all these ethical tangents here because the packaging of this chocolate is extreme on the socially ethical look. All the wording about a brighter future and education on the card box and then the picture of the smiling girl with her book on the inside of the box all contribute to a World Vision type style. And naturally so: Me to We is not specifically a chocolate company. They're the other side of WE Charity; in addition to chocolate, they also sell coffee and jewelry. I didn't think that I recognized the name, but the bracelets definitely look familiar, so I'm sure I've seen them before.

All this is great but it also made me wonder how the chocolate would actually taste. Not to be making a point of pointing fingers, but Equal Exchange, for instance, has good motives and sells different types of products and they do have good tea but their chocolate isn't very good.

The cocoa is sourced in Ecuador (the package says that it's made in Ecuador, as well, which is nice because often the beans are exported and then processed into chocolate in another country). So the wrapper has a traditional pattern in homage to the chocolate's heritage. The bar itself has a youthful and trendy vibe that reminds me of Girl Scout cookies, like something that you can say is for a cause but is also nice to eat in a casual sort of way (admittedly and unsurprisingly I never buy Girl Scout cookies anymore but that's the idea that Girl Scout cookies evoke).

Boy, this chocolate has been through some rough times, though. The stamp seems to say it was made in October 2018 and expires in April 2020. Chocolate has a long shelf life but it is usually less than ideal to get it so close to expiration. What surprises me about this is that I thought that Barnes & Noble just started selling these pretty recently. Usually I think of the approaching expiration dates belonging on chocolate bars that have been sitting untouched on the shelf of a little random shop for years. But this just goes to show how much chocolate sometimes has to travel and how many hands it has to go through before it gets to you. There is lots of bloom on this chocolate's surface; it's definitely been through some temperature changes. That bottom left corner especially has been through some times. Ah, that's life.

The chocolate immediately on unwrapping releases a sweet dark chocolate smell in that marshmallow flavor note zone that reminds me of a chocolate I used to get at Trader Joe's. Now, while I did like the bar's design, the squares are too big. Maybe it's just me, but these are much too big for one bite and I don't like to bite into dark chocolate; I like to place a piece in my mouth instead. Which means that I had to break one of these apart, which meant that I could tell that it was getting a little hard from being on the old side. Still, the chocolate had a good snap apart from that.

Initially, I thought that the texture had suffered for sure, but then it seemed to normalize. Or maybe I just got distracted by the flavor. It begins with a Ghirardelli-like semisweet chocolate taste, nice and silvery. But it doesn't stay there; it keeps developing. I want to say it gets a stewed fruit or banana taste, something like that. Then it starts mellowing and quieting, finishing gently and leaving a quiet and tender warmth.

Now I did see on their website that Me to We has won awards from the International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate; awards like that are nothing to be modest about. But I still wasn't expecting this. I was expecting this chocolate to be mediocre; I truly was. I also wasn't expecting to care for it given that it's at 65% cocoa content. But this chocolate is good. I can see why the company holds its own at awards.

What this chocolate shows me is that they know how to use good cocoa and play to its strengths. This chocolate is neither at all bitter nor that weird middle range "sweet dark." It has some sweetness, but not too much. Instead, the slightly lower cocoa content keeps everything light so that the chocolate won't be intimidating. It's just a nice pleasant chocolate with mild flavor notes. If I were to do my nature metaphors, this chocolate would the moment when you're sitting and staring at a pond in a park. Absolutely wonderful when you're there and so many things to look at when you take the time for it. Less in-your-face, fireworks jumping into the sky but no less detailed. I would definitely recommend picking up some Me to We chocolate if you come across it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Victoria the Beautiful T-Rex

Victoria the T-Rex is currently next to the Victorian house the Rosson House. These are the things that amuse me.

I am referring, of course, to the traveling exhibit that is currently at the Arizona Science Center. These traveling exhibits are great for the museum. I hadn't been there since I was eleven years old until I decided to go see the Pompeii exhibit a year or two ago. And now I was back again already for Victoria. The changing exhibits give families a chance to make a yearly visit and give adults an excuse to go, too.

And of course when there are dinosaurs involved, I'm in.

Victoria is certainly a beauty. While the exhibit is mainly just built around one skeleton, they did try and bulk it out a little with a cool intro video, a couple of interactive features, and an exit walk through a dark and jungley path. And we are looking at a more current approach to dinosaurs here. (Honestly, they keep discovering new things every day that I'm still skeptical about how much we actually know, but I guess that's beside the point.) Even when you look at Victoria herself. You can see the horizontal line her spine and tail make that's parallel with the ground versus that Godzilla posture of yesteryear. You can see the much wider ribcage whose shape is in fact a very new realization. And the text and interactive things had info not just about feathers but also about what kind of feathers a dinosaur like the T-Rex probably had.

Obviously, of course, if you just walk straight through, you'll be done in two minutes. But if you take the time to check out Victoria and her awesome bone structure, take some pictures with her, look at the interactive displays, and enjoy the little jungle walk, it's a nice time. Dinosaurs hit that sweet spot between science and fantasy and that's kind of what the exhibit aimed for, too.

Monday, January 27, 2020

La Boheme & What Is Real

Given how much I'd enjoyed Arizona Opera's production of Madama Butterfly a couple years ago, I was excited to see more Puccini coming up with La Boheme this season. So yes, music was great, the symphony was great, the performers were great, the sets were great--but that really isn't my zone to talk about, is it? I'm here to talk about how it all felt.

How does it feel to be an artist trying to create something meaningful but really feeling like what would be meaningful would be food on the table and bills paid? How does it feel to find yourself on the edge of love but know that it will not last? How does it feel to feel? That is the main question that this story brought up.

In fact, this feeling of the great joy/pain and success/failure of life is so strong that it almost feels like a sort of precursor to postmodernism. It's a witty story. The opening scene is funny as the characters, desperately cold, burn the pages of Rodolfo's play to keep warm. But by the third act, when Mimi is singing about how she and Rodolfo can agree to stay together until spring because they won't be able to feel the loss so much during spring, well, that's the breaking point. Even though she's singing about pretty springtime things, her song is heartbreak in music form.

And that's life. Heartbreak can come in many forms. There is the loss of a relationship--but also any type of emotional loss. That's one of the guarantees in life: there will be heartbreak. These characters also experience fleeting pleasures and even fleeting sorrows--but they are most stirred by the deep happinesses and the deep losses. In a way, as artists they pursue the deep experiences. They make beauty out of them in their art. But they are also shattered and broken by them. In Mimi and Rodolfo's story, happiness and pain meet, which is expressive of life itself.

First they wanted to believe that they were in love because the idea of being in love seemed so wonderful. Then they wanted to believe that they could separate in order to avoid the pain of a hopeless situation. At the bitter end, they feel the love they have for each other and also the pain of their loss of each other, now made eternal. All through this the question in mind is, what is real in our minds? There is the conflict between what this group of artists are trying to do with their lives and what they are actually experiencing--and a conflict between what Rodolfo and Mimi want and what they actually experience. The curtain closes on her death because what happens next depends on what the characters decide is real. Is the heartbreak real enough to make Rodolfo never love again? Is it real enough that he will pursue an entirely different life, one where he finds a different career and a simpler love that is simply marriage rather than what he had with Mimi? Is it real enough to inspire him to write an amazing play, one that might even give him financial success? Or is it real enough that he will simply continue to live the life that he is now, because it is this life of poverty and fear and poetry that brought him all that he has experienced?

(This is what happens when you write about Puccini while listening to Breaking Benjamin.)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jelina Chocolatier: Crunchy Pecan Caramel Milk Chocolate

Here is how it happened. I was in line at Barnes & Noble last month. Usually, especially around one holiday or another, there are chocolates around. Godiva's usually the main one; they seem to be good friends with Barnes & Noble. But what caught my attention was that there were not only several different brands in the chocolate display they had this time but at least a couple of those had fair trade labels on them. Fair trade chocolate at Barnes & Noble? Hey, I had to get some even just to let them know that I approved, right?

The first one will provide a nice contrast with the Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat from Tony's Chocolonely last week. We have more of the world tricking me here. Jelina Chocolatier offers a Crunchy Pecan Caramel Milk Chocolate. Now even though the picture shows liquid caramel pouring out, at least the name does use the word "crunchy." And we can assume that the liquid caramel is being poured out onto the pecans in order to harden and then become crunchy rather than staying in a liquid state.

However. The look of the chocolate bar does indeed still imply liquid caramel. Those deep rectangles look like pockets for filling, do they not? Usually that is only the bar's style if it has filling. So I did bite into the first one still expecting liquid caramel. There is no liquid caramel.

What I did find, though, was more of a nice, light toffee. I specify this because not all "crunchy caramels" are alike. I've had a few of them by this point and this one might just be my favorite. I do like toffee; if I'm in a confection shop, I'll probably choose toffee. And the reason why this one feels so nice and light is that Jelina does make better ingredients a priority. Whenever a company chooses to do this, the difference is evident in the flavor.

As far as the chocolate goes, you can probably tell even in the pictures that it is quite pale. I've had some milk chocolates even lighter than this, but not many. I do quite like the look of the chocolate bar despite its implication of free-flowing caramel, but its color does also imply that this is extremely low cocoa content milk chocolate. I can't find the percentage listed anywhere, but the lightness of the cocoa flavor comes across in taste, as well. That being said, this chocolate does taste nice and milky. It almost reminds me more of a Swiss milk chocolate; they tend to make very light, very milky and yet also quite good milk chocolate.

That comparison isn't too far off: Jelina uses chocolate from Belgium in their products. Good thing I chose a milk bar and not a dark because I don't seem to care for Belgian dark chocolate; either they only export the cheap stuff or their style is just too sweet. This chocolate, though, I like. It is very light but it makes for a nice confection-type chocolate bar. I find it much more enjoyable than the milk chocolate from Tony's.

And yes, I've almost forgotten about the pecans because in truth, I did forget about them for the first couple squares that I ate. Sure, there is a nutty taste, but lots of milk chocolate has a nutty taste so I didn't notice anything unusual. There is a crunch to the chocolate, of course, but if there is a separate pecan crunch, it blends in with the toffee-called-caramel. While pecans are wonderful with chocolate and it would have been perhaps nice to get some in here, I also can't say that this chocolate felt lacking without them.

So I'm feeling pretty happy with this bar. Maybe I just like their plain brown card box. Mainly I like that this chocolate feels more like an actual confection: a sweet and milky milk chocolate with light toffee crystals. Whether or not I would try much more from Jelina Chocolatier given that they don't make their own chocolate, I don't know. If a company makes great flavored chocolate, then there's nothing wrong with the fact that they don't also make the chocolate itself. But it tends to feel like I have less to explore. So we'll see.

It also bears noting that Jelina Chocolatier is a Canadian company. Their name in Canada is Galerie au Chocolat; they explain that they chose to use a different name in the U.S. because there was already a similar name out here. So for anyone who happens to be in Canada, there you have it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Eden Recovered: Rey's Journey

If there is anyone who still needs a spoiler-warning, yes, this post contains spoilers on The Rise of Skywalker.

"Serpent! Serpent! Serpent!" C-3PO cries out, and a percentage of the audience shouts out, Alice in Wonderland! Star Wars being archetypal and all about symbols and themes, it would follow that they would directly include literary references (especially given that one of the writers, Chris Terrio, was a lit. major). But why include this particular reference?

The snake scene is full of symbolic value. It is one of the many examples of healing from past harm. D-O runs from Rey's touch and then, once he is able to trust again, helps the Resistance. The snake first appears threatening, as if ready to kill the company, and then ends up helping them find a way out after Rey shows it kindness in healing its wound. Kylo experiences kindness and acceptance and forgiveness from Rey where before he only felt hurt and unworthiness--and so he chooses to lay aside the past. In the simplest form, the snake is Kylo. Rey literally heals both of their physical wounds and then receives assistance from them both.

The snake is also a traditional symbol of evil and temptation and disobedience and rebellion, going back to the garden of Eden. And the redemption story that you see in the film in D-O, the snake, and in Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is essentially a recovery of the Fall from Eden. The snake was a symbol of evil and that's why 3PO and Finn and Poe were afraid of it, ready to just kill it to protect themselves. But Rey didn't want to stop at saving her life; her aims were higher. She was on a mission. So instead of killing instead of being killed, she won the snake over to her side and consequently was speeded on her way. She took what had been given the name of evil and gave it a new name.

Just as she gives herself a new name. And that's where the Alice in Wonderland reference comes in. That story is all about "nonsense" situations that in some way express the concept of growing up. The serpent quote comes from when Alice is growing so much that her neck becomes very long and reaches into the sky so that she can't even see her hands. So she starts craning her neck into the trees to look for the rest of her body, and a bird shouts serpent at her and explains that she has been trying to keep her eggs safe from serpents. Alice tries to explain that she's a girl not a serpent and that even though she does eat eggs, she doesn't eat eggs like that; but trying to explain her actual identity is difficult in the circumstances and the bird really doesn't believe her.

It really isn't nonsense if you look at it on a symbolic level. The core of it is establishing personal identity--even in the face about assumptions from other people about that identity, assumptions that can even start to get you questioning who you are. Alice tries to say that she doesn't want the bird's eggs because she's a girl not a serpent--but she also has to admit that girls eat eggs, too, even if it isn't like that. Rey is trying to affirm that she is not a dark Jedi or the heir to the Sith--even when she does things (like using the force to heal physical wounds, perhaps?) that are traditionally associated with the dark side. She even doubts herself, fearing the vision she has of herself on the Sith throne with Kylo.

But Rey is more aware of what is going on than Alice is. Rey is a woman choosing her path in life, not a girl coming of age. She realizes that no one can make her be something that she doesn't choose. She is heir to Palpatine but she does not have to accept the inheritance of darkness. Instead, she chooses to be adopted into the Skywalker lineage, into the legacy of hope and light. Rey, in choosing her identity, initiates healing and redemption from the Fall.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Today I tore pages out of one of my notebooks and put them in the paper shredder and threw them away.

You see, as a writer and probably quite a nostalgic person, I feel like I need to remember everything and keep everything. Seriously, it's amazing I don't have a box of grocery lists hiding out somewhere. And as far as free writing goes, I like to keep it all (which is why I use a notebook for that instead of paper scraps, at least as far as I can help it) (and yes this means that my free writing notebook is different from my journal and from my manuscripts) because sometimes I can incorporate some of it later on into one project or another. I might take something completely out of context (usually) or even just keep a sentence or a phrase or an image.

But am I really going to reread every single thing I've ever written down? Probably not. And so do I really need to keep the free writing fragments that I probably shouldn't even be looking at anymore? Some things, some things don't need to be kept.

Memory is a long and winding trail. Start walking down it and it becomes real. Which paths do you want to keep incorporating into who you are and which do you want to lay aside?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Tony's Chocolonely: Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat

Tony's Chocolonely was completely new to me a couple years or so ago but now they seem to be a pretty stock product in a couple stores. I was drawn to this bar because I like yellow (not all shades of yellow . . . ) and I like honey and nougat and milk chocolate (why choose between milk and dark when there is a time for each of them?).

The thing is, though, a Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat chocolate bar is most likely to be quite different from a candy bar made with chocolate, honey, and almond nougat. You can already see how from looking at the bar: the little nougat pieces are visible just within the chocolate's surface. So yes, they're crunchy pieces, not something soft. I had probably been more focused on the word honey than nougat, but it's definitely worth noting that the nougat here is not the soft substance we're used to from candy bars, if that's what you were hoping for.

The chocolate has kind of a nutty milk chocolate flavor on the tongue. As you chew into the nougat, you get all the little crunchy pieces and sweet flavor. It's nice enough but I wanted more.

A little while back, everyone (including Tony's) was confusing me with crunchy caramel pieces. Now the same thing is happening with nougat. I just don't get it. I'd rather have the crunch of toffee than this. And I kept hesitating about the chocolate, as well. It's 32% and yet it has a feeling of being almost a darker milk chocolate--with a kind of watery taste. It's almost like I want it to be sweeter--even though it is sweet. Maybe I want it to be creamier.

I wasn't expecting this to be fancy milk chocolate. I just wanted it to blend with that creamy, confection style chocolate flavor along with honey and nougat. This is too sweet in the wrong way, more nutty than creamy. When I looked at the Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt from Tony's a couple years ago, I had similar things to say about the chocolate. So the fact of the matter is, their milk chocolate could be better.

This bar isn't bad; it just doesn't deliver what it could. Of course, I'm all for the Tony's mission, but the chocolate has to be more enticing if we're going to choose this chocolate over other brands. Which makes me think. I need to look at the shelves again. Are there any fair trade chocolate brands that make a nougat chocolate bar in the style of Snickers and Three Musketeers? Those are some of my favorite candy bars--but I never buy either of them because I've committed not to. Gourmet chocolate is great, and flavored chocolate bars are great, but sometimes we also want our candy bars. And I think the name of this chocolate bar reminded me of something sweet and enticing--and I just didn't get that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

You Don't Need To

I can be a completist. As in, if I read one book, I want to read all the others, too. If I started one show, I want to watch all the spin-offs, too. If I like some of someone YouTube videos, I want to watch everything they put out. But that's just way too much, isn't it?

I don't want to spend so much time with headphones on and voices pouring in. And if there are so many things that I want to watch that I am interested in, I shouldn't spend time on things that I think I should watch that I'm not actually interested in. Take, for instance, Star Trek. A couple months or so ago, I tried watching Enterprise. The first episode was terrible (and I'll say that because this is a generally forgotten-and-considered-terrible series) and yet I still went on and watched another one or two episodes. Just because I wanted to be able to say that I'd watched all the Star Trek. What? I even admit that I'm not a huge Star Trek fan; I only like it somewhat. And yet I was trying to be a completist with something that I was greatly disliking for many reasons? No sense in that.

There was a time when I probably would have watched it just to watch it. I mean, I watched all the Battlestar Galactica spin-offs in college; that time could have been better spent. And then even if there are things I'd like to get to, there's no rush. I still need to watch the Doctor Who episodes for the third through eighth doctors--but I'm okay with waiting years to even get around to watching more because it's just TV, it doesn't matter that much.

All this also makes me think of the time that I spend on content that might not have anything necessarily wrong with it but that doesn't, well, doesn't help my state of mind. Like artist movies. I'm a sucker for artist movies, but sometimes I have to be careful about when I watch them. And I'm talking about the tragic, emotionally stirring things like Bright Star. The ones that start playing into my emotions a little too much sometimes. They can start encouraging thoughts in my head of tragedy--and of tragedy as beautiful, which can almost lead to an admiration of tragedy rather than acceptance of tragedy when it does happen. If I'm making the difference clear.

Point being, all of the things that we fill our heads with make a difference. If I say, I like to listen to YouTube videos in the morning while I'm getting ready and then at the end of the day when I'm in the kitchen and also when I'm cleaning the house, then that can be okay but it can also mean that I'm clogging my head. Sure, if I'm about to start scrubbing the bathroom, there's nothing wrong with turning on YouTube so that I can feel like I'm making use of that time and also being productive while also getting through the videos I want to see without just sitting on the sofa. But if I have them on for majority of the time that I'm home, well, that becomes a problem.

Part of it is that I'm trying to keep up with everything new coming out. I'm trying to watch those videos so that when there are the times that I just want to sit down and watch something, I can go for a movie or show from my long Netflix List instead. But if there are more minutes' worth than I should be spending time on, well, then, it's time to start cutting it back. If I only started watching this person because of a certain type of videos they used to make and they no longer make those, maybe I can unsubscribe. If I used to like these videos, but now I've had my fill, I can let it go now. If I like this type of videos from this person but not that type, I only need to watch the ones that I like.

In the process of unclogging one's head, it is important to consider what one is filling one's head with. What other things would I rather make time for (and more benefit from making time for) than YouTube videos or a TV show I don't even like?

So if you're like me and you feel like you need to watch that show or that list of videos or whatever it may be, you don't need to. You really don't. Watch some when it's time to watch and enjoy it, sure, but leave it at that. There are endless things to consume right now, so it's time (past time) to cap our personal consumption.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Strong Emotions Much?

I think I've shared that I realized last year that I kind of grew up thinking that I was being bad when I cried--and since I'm a crier, this led me to dislike that part of myself and feel like it should be different. As I went into adulthood and realized that it isn't just that I'm a crier, it's that I experience intense emotions, I started to dislike the intensity. I mean, when they're good emotions, it's nice. I feel like Lucy Snowe in Villette, like I can live my whole life off of the memory of one good moment because that one good moment will stay in my memory forever as a very real and intense emotion. But when the intense emotions are negative, well, sometimes I can try and funnel them into writer's mode, but sometimes it just isn't fun and I wonder when I'll be able to stop the intensity.

This month, though, I had a powerful realization. I realized that yes, I do experience intense emotions, so that means that that's just how my mind works, so that means that that's how God made my mind. Wow. And suddenly my whole perspective shifted. Some people are amazing with numbers and come up with all sorts of mathematical proofs and whatnot. Some people have such good memories for facts that they make extremely effective lawyers, etc. Our minds all work in different ways--and that's a good thing.

I remember in a painful moment being told that I was thinking with my emotions, with my heart--as if that was a bad thing. And sure, in that moment I did need to see with clarity past the specific emotions I was focusing on (being able to properly identify emotions is also important and would have really helped). But it is not a bad thing that I live my life with my heart. Yes, I can have either a positive or negative relationship with my emotions. At many points it has probably been quite a negative relationship, I'll admit. It's kind of a whole life's work to get that healthy relationship, isn't it? But it is okay to feel with intensity.

Because I feel so intensely, I will always remember that one guest who said a kind word that helped lift me up when I was having a hard day at work years ago. I will thank the worker at the store who's taking my cart for me in the parking lot with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation. I will get so excited and thrilled and happy when I see the first saguaro bloom of the season. I will see all the symbols and themes in a book or movie. I will do things in my community simply because it makes sense to me. When the time comes that I give my heart to someone, it will be wholly and completely. Though I have walked through dark days, I always come back to the light--though my mind may ache to pessimism at times, my heart always leads me to let optimism triumph. And best of all, it is because I am so driven by my heart that my heart always knew that God was there and was good--I've needed to learn more details over the years, but I always had that simple fact written on my heart. Because he made my heart.

And he also treasures my heart. I can see the joy in the pink sunset and I can feel the sadness of a coyote dead on the side of the road. I can be happy when I get to see my family and sad when I don't. And though emotions like sadness may be "negative" emotions, is it not also beautiful that I can feel pain? How many expressions of pain are in the Bible? Countless. Jesus himself wept. Just as it is good to joy, it is also good to grieve. A season for everything, eh? But the fact that he made my mind and he treasures my heart means that he is also the healer of my heart and the guardian of my mind. I can experience sadness or nervousness or whatever it may be. And it's okay. Because none of this is meant to control me; just because it might come into my mind doesn't mean it has dominion over me, doesn't meant that he doesn't want to heal my heart.

I'm learning to take back my mind, which in turn means that I'm staying more aware of my thoughts and my actions are also being affected. Instead of trying to bury or ignore my highly emotional quality, I'd like to simply let it be. Some feelings I need to submit to God in order to release them; others will just need to run their course without letting them take hold of me. If the negative emotions come on me in a rush, I can remember also what it feels like to be recklessly in love with the God who holds his hands out to me no matter where I am. Because I know what it is to feel dark, I also know what it is to experience the light. So what's wrong with seeing and remembering everything through the lens of emotions so long as I'm still letting God steer my life and my mind?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Stone Grindz: Ucayali River, Peru 70%

My goodness, has it really been a year and a half since I last looked at anything from Stone Grindz? I guess that sounds about right; that was around when my life started to get hectic, one of the results being that I wasn't able to go to the farmers market, which was where I had been getting Stone Grindz chocolate. But 2020 is a new year for me, even in terms of chocolate it would seem. So I'm bringing Stone Grindz back.

And I am so happy to be doing so and so proud once again to have this company in the city in which I live. This chocolate bar is wonderful, and it's one of those chocolates that can act as a wake-up if you're starting to lose interest in the whole zone of chocolate. I didn't pay much attention to the details when I bought this 70% dark chocolate sourced in the Ucayali River of Peru. I was honestly just looking at those International Chocolate Awards stickers. Those are no joke; there's lots of competition. So you know, I was curious.

I got more excited when I opened up the packaging to learn that the cocoa beans here essentially have Trinitario ancestry. Trinitario beans are great; they're just delicate and traditionally chocolatey, they're lovely. Then I looked at the chocolate bar and its simple and classy face greeted me warmly. It had definitely been a while since I'd looked a Stone Grindz bar in the eye, so it was a welcome greeting. The chocolate's color isn't as light as it appears in the picture, but it does still have a warm-toned face.  The aroma is of nibs, that intense cocoa feel that they carry.

The flavor is red and warm, with a liquid chocolate taste of smoothness. There is that feeling of sweetness that is more the flavor of the chocolate than of the sugar. I found an almost fruity/buttery flavor and a gentleness that was still strong. Then more chocolate-sweetness came in, and then cocoa flavors that felt milky (in a good way) even though this is dark chocolate. The chocolate finished with a breath, a sigh of gentle goodness.

I called this chocolate smooth, but there is zero plastic smoothness about it. There is zero bitterness. It is so gentle and yet contains such a feeling of depth. This chocolate tastes like who I want to be right now. It's quite feminine and yet lacking in no power. It knows its strength and goes for it full force.

As per my usual approach, I didn't look at the tasting notes until after I'd tasted. They are mocha, cedar, dried cherry, and chocolate. Okay, I definitely got the chocolate. The milkiness I mentioned sounds like it could be the mocha. I said almost fruity because when I say fruity I tend to think of citrus (like chocolate sourced in Madagascar) and I knew that wasn't right. So dried cherries make sense--and they're dried instead of fresh because those have less acidity and more richness, right? As far as the cedar goes, well, I can't say that I pick up any flavors that remind me of cedar; I don't know, I guess I'm just not that talented. Anyway, what I think is more the point about tasting notes for most of us is to just get a general sense of the chocolate. Even if I don't look at the notes and see that I'd written those down, too, I still end up looking at them and saying, oh, okay, yes, that's about the tone of the chocolate that I'd observed.

I'd definitely recommend this bar if you're looking for a chocolate that is both full of depth of high quality flavor and also traditionally chocolate-centered. Those zingy citrusy flavors I was mentioning, for instance, can be fun--but sometimes you just want a bar that tastes most strongly of chocolate. Sometimes those chocolates, though, can end up having less depth of flavor. But this one manages to hit both angles in what I find quite a unique way.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Visually Auditory?

One might assume that I am an auditory listener. I liked the college classes in which the professors would just stand in the front of the class and talk. So the assumption has always been that I am a good listener.

But I'm also good with visuals. If you take me to your house one time, I will be able to draw on a piece of paper all of the turns that we took to get there. I can keep a map inside of my head.

It figures then that when people talk about what type of learner you are, I never really felt like I was a certain one. Well, how do you study, people might ask. It depended on what I was studying for (and quite frankly I really didn't study at all until I get to college; I usually didn't feel like I needed to, and since I was writing more papers than taking tests in college, there were only so many times when I did need to study for a test). Usually I would just reread the material or my notes. I might make flashcards if there were specific words or numbers to memorize. So that's both auditory and visual, right?

I took a test the other day to see what kind of learner I am and my results were 40% auditory, 40% visual, and 20% tactile. Ha, no wonder. I think what happens is that auditory becomes visual in my head. So when a professor was talking, I would picture either the words or concepts that they were saying; I made up the visual element on my own. And when something is visual, I pair it with the sounds. So if someone is giving a presentation with charts or graphs or pictures, I see the concept and I remember their voice speaking over the image. That's the thing, too: when I meet or interact with someone, I may or may not remember their name or what they looked like but I will remember their voice for years after.

For me, sound and sight tie in to one another. I hear the clock ticking and I imagine its hands moving to mark each second. The one feeds into the other. Does that mean that I lean more toward visual than auditory? Or are they really at equal levels? I mean, the distinction doesn't really matter much, but it's interesting to think about.

I tend to have very visual memories, for instance. I don't necessarily remember what someone was wearing or everything that was in the room. My memories are tied in with emotions--but I also remember spaces. So for instance, if I remember a moment when I was scared as a child, I might remember who else was there and where they were standing in relation to me and also how big the room was and what rooms were next to it and how I got into that room, that sort of thing. I can't necessarily fill in all the details of the spaces (unless it's a place I studied well or visited often), but I can remember the spaces themselves because I keep the maps inside my head.

Hmmm. This is why I like to read. The words on the page are in themselves images. I don't have a photographic memory, but sometimes I think I have a tendency towards one. I can remember where on a page a certain sentence was (and this is what people call spatial learning). Words are in fact quite tangible and living things to me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Arizona Falls

Phoenix history is very much the history of water in the valley. I like to tell people the story of how Phoenix got its name: settlers dug up the old Hohokam canals and started using them again, so like the mythical bird that rises up from its ashes, a new civilization was starting up again where one had previously been before.

Early Phoenix was agricultural. If you have agriculture, you need water. And if you have as many people living in a place as live in the greater Phoenix area today, you need water. So the history of the canals and the dams is linked tightly with the history of Phoenix settlement.

Today I'm drawing attention to a place that was historically a day trip destination and is today a little taste of history and a little education on the canals and a little leisure spot. That's Arizona Falls, of course.

True to its name, it was once essentially just a waterfall that people would visit, a place where they'd go to try and cool off or to enjoy a picnic. You can see pictures of people in their Victorian garb sitting out there and hear stories of how it was an all day thing to get there from what is today Downtown Phoenix.

Technically Arizona Falls is in Phoenix, but it's really just a hair away from Scottsdale. It's right next to a park and walking trails today. And it's changed. It's more covered up--but you can still see and hear and feel the power of the water.

Signage explains the history of water in the valley and the importance of the canals. Benches provide seating so that you can enjoy a quiet moment--well, quiet except for the roaring of the water. Art, in the form of design and poetry, sets this place up not just for function but also for beauty. In fact, the very point of incorporating art here is to establish the beauty of functional, necessary things--to let them in themselves be art.

Water is powerful. Water is necessary. Water is life. Here, now, and always. That's the message Arizona Falls conveys.