Thursday, July 31, 2008

Belief, Bacon and Botox

The power of our beliefs is so strong it influences every decision we make and WE DON'T EVEN KNOW IT! It's actually kind of scary if you think about it. Let me give you a very simple example from Predictably Irrational. In blind taste tests a majority of people choose Pepsi over Coke. If the labels are revealed before the test, a majority choose Coke. We see the Coke label and choose Coke, but we actually like the way Pepsi tastes better. We believe we like Coke better and thus we choose Coke. Our belief creates our reality rather than our actual experience.

This happens to all of us many times a day. Let's say you are female (or fat or a minority or have a slight limp or etc. etc. etc.) and you are ignored at a car dealership. This happened to me, and I assumed it was because I was female (insert your perceived reason for what you see as a slight - fat, minority, etc. here) and was seen as having no buying power or that I would come back with the man in my life to actually make a purchase. Now I have no idea if this is the reason I was ignored. Maybe everyone was just busy. But to this day, I believe it was because I was a woman alone. See how our beliefs can impact us? I saw a slight where none may have existed.

I've found the recent horror stories about the economy impacting me. Let's face it, you can't live on this planet and not hear regularly about the mortgage crisis, people getting kicked out of their homes, layoffs, the price of gas, the stock market falling, AAAIIIEEE! It's the Grapes of Wrath!! We are all one step away from a Frigidaire box under a bridge!!! Grab your children - start collecting aluminum cans - dump your evil SUV, get a Prius - we are going down!!!!

Now, if I look at my situation, I am doing fine! My income is up over last year, financially I am doing very well. But hearing all this day in and day out is changing my beliefs. Instead of planning a big trip this year, I'm paying off my mortgage. I'm being much more careful with my money. I'm more risk averse. (Of course, if everyone is doing this, it only makes the economy worse, but that's a blog for someone else to write.) The media is very powerful in shaping our beliefs - it's very scary how much so.

Don't like the economic example? How about how we feel about our bodies? The shade of our teeth? Our hair? Our wrinkles? When women get poison injected into their foreheads and can no longer convey emotion, things have gotten a bit scary. The belief is that aging is bad and smoother skin is worth giving up your time, money, and ability to express emotion for. This, of course, is a losing battle - but belief (I must be eternally young to be loved and have value) offsets rationality (I can't be eternally young and my value has nothing to do with the appearance of my forehead).

I wonder if I would have liked the Chocolate Bacon Bar if I hadn't know it had bacon in it - if I thought it had nuts or something else salty? I wonder if I would be better off to say, "Damn the economy, I'm going to Disneyland!" I wonder how many times my own insecurities have pushed someone away? What beliefs do you hold that influence your actions and experiences? I think the key to happiness is figuring out what they are and making sure you really want to hang onto them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chocolate, Bacon, and Mad Men

Carole Walker not only gave me chocolate Peeps, she gave me a Vosges Haut-Chocolat bar. The name - Mo's Bacon Bar. The description - applewood smoked bacon, Alder wood smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate. The picture -

Okay - my picture is lame. The bar itself just looks like a regular chocolate bar. I wanted to show you the slab of bacon on the wrapper! The verdict? Hmmm.....sweet and salty, which I love, but I must confess that I found the involvement of bacon kind of creepy. I think I want any meat I consume to not be in my candy. But I'm damn glad I tried it! Carole, you are the best!!

I was in Target today and on impulse decided to give chocolate gum another chance. I was in line, this was by the register - I am a sucker!!

Guess what? It's not too bad! Here's the difference - Dentyne stuck with mint, there is really only a hint of chocolate. Like a tease. No meat. I liked it.

What a great world we live in! A world where people make cool, exotic candy bars; where gum makers constantly innovate; and where shows like Mad Men are popular. If you haven't see this show, I highly recommend it. It has restored my faith not only in the medium of television, but in the critics (they all like it!). Why do I love it so much?

The costumes, the sets, the attention to detail are amazing. You really feel like you are back in the Kennedy Era. I like the way there is depth to the characters, and it is revealed slowly. I love the writing - so many shows today are just lame comedies. This one makes you think. I love the advertising industry and its history. I like realizing how far women have come and how much power they have always had (they just used it a little differently). And I love watching the lead character's struggle with his desires.

What are you grateful for? Are you finding the joy or focusing on the pain? Life is as good (or bad) as you make it. Carpe chocolate! Carpe vita!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't Dis the Peep, Homes

Carole Walker hooked me up!!!!! Carole (my newest drug dealer) brought me some chocolate Peeps! And I have some extraordinary news! You may want to sit down, dear reader. The chocolate Peeps (they are actually cocoa) are really good! I'm not kidding!

These were bunnies, not the traditional chicks. A nice tan color. Carole brought me an eight pack. They are all gone. Need I say more?

Want some even better news about the Peeps? All eight had only 240 calories! That's a whole lot of fun without too much damage to the waistline. You say "Just!" I say "Born!" "Go Peeps!!" (With no apologies whatsoever to the folks at Hillshire Farms).

Before you rush to dis the Peep, get thee some! Which brings me to our motivational point for the day - don't knock it before you try it. Think of how many decisions we have already made with no evidence whatsoever. (I can't do that; I won't like them; that won't work.) I know some of you are already saying you won't like the chocolate Peep and you haven't even tried one. You may not have had a Peep in years! Or never had a Peep! I say "Give Peeps a chance!"

Clearly the sugar has gone to my head.

When I went on a group tour to Australia and New Zealand, you had to go where the group was going and do what the group was doing. Or they would simply leave you. Many of the things I was convinced I would hate (a sheep show, glow worm caves) were among the best things on the trip. Here's the challenge - try what you think you won't like (just TRY it) and once in a while say yes, even though you're thinking no (especially if there is even the most remote possibility for an adventure). You say "Just" I say "Born!" "Go Peeps!"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm in Love with the Pillsbury Doughboy

I have some 'splanin to do. I don't think I've ever addressed why the heck I'm blogging about chocolate and motivation. I have discussed the power of chocolate bribery on school children and the fact that women in India and Brazil will do almost anything for chocolate. Obviously for some of us, chocolate can be a powerful motivator. But the real reason for this blog is to explore a new twist on an old topic.

I've been a professional speaker for almost ten years now, and I know that meeting planners and meeting attendees are dying for something new. Heck, I'm dying for something new! So this blog is testing the waters, forcing me to write and see if I can link enough useful motivational concepts to that wonderful, delicious, food of the gods - chocolate. We know people love chocolate, we know they like to be inspired - here we'll learn if the two can be mixed. Or if, like Chocolate Bubble Yum, the sum is not greater than its parts.

I have been having some chocolate fun - I really do think that having fun is a HUGE part of staying motivated. And I also think we don't have nearly enough of it. I tried the Reese's' Bat (released for the Batman movie) and was shocked by the fact that I didn't think it was all that great. I mean surely the only difference between the Bat and the Reese's' Egg (which I adore) is the shape. Maybe this Bat was not fresh - I can't explain it, I only know I can live without another Bat. But it was fun to actually find a Reese's' Bat (I visited lots of convenience stores before I found one) and I did score the very last one in the display! Ah - obviously the fun was in the journey, not in the destination. (Like Trick or Treating or Easter Egg Hunting - the fun is in the game, the seeking - that's the exciting part. It's just not the same to go to the store and buy a bag of holiday candy.)

On a whim I bought a bag of chocolate marshmallows and am having fun deciding whether or not I really like them. I mean they are okay. That's how I feel about regular marshmallows. They are not great, not bad - they are okay. They are low in fat and relatively low in calories. They have a great texture and are fun to eat (squishy in a noncreepy way), but are they really in my top ten? Top twenty? Top 1,000? Should they even be on the list at all? I'll have to get back to you on this - right now, when I want something a little sweet, I'm grabbing a chocolate marshmallow. I'd like to try one roasted. Maybe with peanut butter. Hmmmmm...

I'm also having fun doing the research for this blog. My latest find? America's Most Loved Spokescreature is......drum roll please........the M & M's characters!!!! Yay!! Followed by the Geico Gecko, the Aflac Duck, and (another fav of mine) Poppin' Fresh. I love that little guy!!

How are YOU traveling these days? Enjoying the journey? Having enough fun? Or are you waiting for some mysterious time in the future when you'll have fun? Maybe when the economy is better or gas prices drop? Better start making time for fun now, my friend - as Emerson said "We are always getting ready to live and never living." And don't forget the immortal words of Poppin' Fresh, "Hee, hee!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In the Chocolate Shop of Life

One of the best things about going into a really nice chocolate ship is the variety. There are milk chocolates and dark chocolates, even some white chocolates. There are chocolates with nuts, with caramel, with peanut butter, with fruit. There are creams and jellies, and all kinds of shapes and sizes and textures. There are things covered in chocolate (cookies, pretzels, potato chips) and topped with toffee and sprinkles and wrapped in foil. It's a feast for the senses!

In the Chocolate Shop of Life, we have a wide variety as well. I've been thinking lately about what a strange confection I am - high energy and friendly but stubborn (and very outcome based - let's flash back to Improv). The Myers-Briggs has me totally pegged as an ENTJ (Extrovert Intuitive Thinking Judging) - it's the thinking/judging part that can make me so hard to deal with sometimes. So if I were a cookie, I'd be a Black and White cookie (I adore these by the way) more like a little flat yellow cake covered half in a fudgy chocolate frosting and half in a sweet white frosting. No gray area - none. I'm not saying being judgemental is a good thing, I'm just admitting it's the way I am. It can make me hard to deal with, but it can also help cut through a lot of BS if needed. If I were a candy in a chocolate shop, I'd definitely be a little nutty, but not fruity. Not too sweet, probably chewy. Maybe some sprinkles! Not everyone would like me, but I'd have some loyal fans.

What would you be? Steady, safe, dependable milk chocolate? Nothing wrong with that - milk chocolate is the base for almost everything else! A gorgeous strawberry dipped in chocolate? Delicious, but not much staying power. A butter cream - smooth and sensuous? A deep dark chocolate - very serious?

Some chocolates everyone likes, some are fascinating, some are so weird you don't know what to make of them. Some make you comfortable, some drive you wild, and some are rare treats. Most have pros and cons and some are right in some situations (the after dinner mint) and wrong in others (the after dinner mint). Just like people!

In the Chocolate Shop of Life, I want to thank the people who come back for my weird nutty, chewy, not too sweet self (but with sprinkles)! I don't think I thank my box of assorted friends enough. And I need to remind my thinking, judging self that it's the variety that makes life great. I might not want to eat the jelly-filled chocolates, but I'm still glad they're around.

Lessons from The Chocolate Shop of Life? Enjoy the variety, accept and embrace what makes you different, and celebrate those who are your kindred spirits (or at least don't spit you out).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hiding, Stealing, and Licking Chocolate

Chocolate rules!!! These are excerpts from an article in The Times of India (my random comments are in italics).

Half of the women in a recent international study revealed that chocolate gives them pleasure similar to sex. (The other half probably said it was better.) The research also said that close to 80% of women consider chocolate to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, women love chocolate so much that they would stoop to even feigning pregnancy for it. (Okay, I am very scared by that. Just how does feigning pregnancy get you chocolate?)

Indian women have also admitted that they can even beg, borrow or steal to indulge in their “cardinal sin”. This known-though-never-studied (gotta love that hyphenation) fact comes from a poll by Axe Research Lab on 3,571 women across 13 countries. The study shows that women of any country and any origin would hide chocolate to avoid sharing it with others. (They needed a survey for this?)

In fact, Indian women are only second to Brazilians in hiding their chocolates. While a shocking 84.9% of 225 respondents from Brazil thought it fine not to share their “pieces of sin” with others by hiding it, 75.9% of the 220 Indians surveyed, thought along the same lines. In fact, Indian women seem more desperate to get a piece of chocolate or to save their chocolates from others. A high 22.7% of Indian respondents said they would not think twice before stealing chocolate from a friend. (Note - do not take your chocolate to India!)

This is the highest percentage across all the countries surveyed. Only Brazilians and Mexicans come somewhat close. Indians also scored high using a fake excuse to get chocolate. Some admitted to even stooping to fake their birthday for it. Interestingly, some said they would prefer licking their pieces of chocolate to avoid having to share it with others. About 31.4% of Indians agreed to fake birthdays, and an even higher 46.8% said they’d be happy to lick their bits to prevent others from taking a bite. (Note - if anyone in India offers you chocolate, don't take it.)

How great is this survey? World peace through chocolate I tell you! It may be the only thing we can all agree on. But I am intrigued by the licking strategy. How exactly would this work? If you and I were in a store together and I bought a candy bar, would I immediately lick the entire thing so you wouldn't be tempted to ask for any? What do I do with M & M's? And what about the pregnancy angle? Do I send out birth announcements in the hopes that everyone will shower me with chocolate? Or do I just tell everyone that I'm pregnant and having intense chocolate cravings?

Ah - the things we'll do for love.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Focus on Chocolate

It is said that what you focus on multiples. And it makes sense - you can probably think of dozens of examples - you're considering a new car and suddenly you start seeing that make and model everywhere. When I was trying to decide what colors to paint my townhouse, I noticed the paint colors of everyplace I went. (I'd never even really seen them before!) And now that I'm writing this blog - I swear there has been a tsunami of new chocolate products. I have in my possession at this time - chocolate graham crackers, chocolate marshmallows, chocolate Goldfish (I kid you not), chocolate almonds (NOT chocolate covered almonds, these are Emerald's new chocolate almonds), and we've already discussed chocolate gum, Pez, and Skittles.

I'm sure there has not been a sudden burst of new chocolate products, it's my focus on them that has me seeing them everywhere.

The great thing about this observation is that if we become aware of it, we can use it to our benefit. You can start off each day choosing to focus on everything good that happens (the sun came up, you're still breathing, the car started, you're still employed, etc. etc.). You could choose to focus on all the great things your spouse (significant other, child, pet, etc.) does. He looks so sexy with that beard stubble, how lucky are you not to be in the dating world, how sweet it was that he made the coffee, etc. etc.

You know what we usually do, of course. Focus on the negative. It's Monday - I hate Mondays. It's too hot, cold, rainy, sunny. My boss is stupid. I am stupid, fat, whatever. My spouse is an idiot - why didn't he clean the coffeemaker? And we make our own lives a living hell. Try it for just one day - try to focus on the positive. Not your bad hair, but your gorgeous eyes. Not your annoying kids, but their joyous laughter. Not your spouses' annoying habits, but the fact that he is hanging in there with you. Focus on what you love about him. Focus on what you love about you.

If you can do it, I think you'll be surprised at how much better you'll feel and how much better you'll make others feel. And if that's too hard, just focus on chocolate. Either way, life will be a helluva lot sweeter.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chocolate Bribery - YAY!

Michelle - thanks for sending me this terrific article! This is a great story about a UK school - check it out and then we'll discuss.

Chocolate bribe turns round primary school
By Tom Peterkin

A school, which was criticised for offering chocolate in exchange for good behaviour, has confounded its critics by producing excellent exam results and not having a single exclusion in the last three years.

Andrew Sheppard, headteacher at Recastle Furze Primary in Thetford, Norfolk, had incurred the wrath of dentists when he launched his plan after his pupils had 65 exclusion days in the 2004/05 academic year.

Dr Sheppard offered the "bribe" to his 240 pupils when he gave them a 40 pence bar of chocolate if they made it to half term of the Autumn term in 2005 without anyone being suspended.

His tactics led to an outcry from the British Dental Association, which said the move flew in the face of the Government's drive to take junk food out of schools and did nothing to help the children's dental health.

Even though the school is in one of the country's most deprived areas, it has been turned round with 85 per cent of his pupils achieving level four (the second highest grade) in this year's Sats tests.

The incentives system was extended so that children were given a free school disco at Christmas, a hog roast at the end of the summer term and a chocolate button Easter egg in the spring if they could maintain their no exclusions record.

Dr Sheppard said: "I feel vindicated. A 40p bar of chocolate is not going to make children obese or rot their teeth. It is providing them with an incentive that they value. Some people said that I should give them a carrot instead, but they are not donkeys.

And like a carrot would work - please! You go, Andrew Shepperd! I say the British Dental Association needs to get the hell over itself. Andrew Shepperd rocks!!

After I read this, I Googled chocolate and bribery. There's a study about college professors who were evaluated higher if they offered students some chocolate before passing out the evaluations. (Well, duh! You give me chocolate and I will love you!)

There are more articles about choclate bribery - using it to get over 50-year-olds to go back to church, using it to get women to read maps better - apparently the applications are endless! And get this - some of the college students didn't even take the chocolate - it was just the offer of it that influenced their behavior.

People love chocolate. For most of us, as soon as we hear the word we perk up. We think of happy childhood times, of delicious flavors, textures and smells. I've said it before and I'll say it again - candy can save the world! Give people chocolate and they'll follow you anywhere!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chocolate Customer Service

A happy birthday to my friend Jay Rowe who sent me the best magnet ever! It reads:

The problem - How to get 2 pounds of chocolate home from the store in a hot car.

The solution - Eat it in the parking lot.

I love it!! And I have lived a version of it:

The question - Where should you store one pound of Asher's chocolate when driving from PA to NC in the summer?

The answer - In your stomach.

Thanks, Jay!!!

I also have a new best friend - Emma Hodgson, Asher's Retail Store Manager. Emma has hooked us up!! She told me what all Asher's peanut butter candies were. Let me just say that I e-mailed PEZ's marketing people and they didn't even bother to respond. (I just wanted to know what all their flavors were.) Emma was terrific!

Now keep in mind that Asher's can do peanut butter - very creamy and good!

peanut smoothies - cubes of peanut butter covered in chocolate

peanut butter cups - I think you have these down.

peanut butter bolsters - these are like a Butterfinger, but as Emma says, "100 times better".

peanut straws - these are awesome!!! I wasn't expecting them to be as good as they are. If you like peanut butter, you should get these. And hide them good. Maybe even from yourself.

peanut butter marshmallow - I have some of these from Wilbur Chocolates, but let me tell you, Asher's blows Wilbur's away. Wilbur's version isn't bad, but Asher's is great. Asher's is more peanut buttery, Wilbur's is more marshmallowey. I am SO making up new words! Hey - I'm doing improv!

peanut butter sherbet - also fabulous, I had some of this from Wilbur's and was so disappointed, I ate one and threw the rest away. I think they call it something else - maybe peanut butter drizzle. Theirs was bland - too much chocolate, not enough peanut butter. Remember at Wilbur's you have to buy a box of each type of candy. (Boo Wilbur's! Yea Asher's!) I have never heard of peanut butter sherbet before - this is what it looks like:

And Emma told me what peanut butter (or chocolate) string is - it's the name for the drizzle on the top of the candy. In fact, this is a quote from Emma: "String is really a drizzle. It is an old word leftover from early candy making days. It has sorta stuck. It is a fantastic piece (we were discussing the peanut butter marshmallow covered in milk chocolate with peanut butter string - I couldn't believe the white stuff was marshmallow - it was sooooo good!)." She goes on to say "They made them yesterday. I ate one fresh from the line. It was 9:00 in the morning. It was really good! That is why I love my job. And why I will never be a size 6 again."

At first I hated her - she ate one FRESH FROM THE LINE! That is livin' the dream, Emma! I was sooo jealous! But she's so cute, you gotta love her. She is so enthusiastic about Asher's and about chocolate that I don't care about them being closed on the 3rd and the lame tour anymore. I love Asher's because of Emma!

Isn't that what we all really want? To do business with people who are excited about the products that we are buying? Who seem happy to help us? Asher's Chocolate is great, but I didn't feel connected to Asher's until Emma took the time to answer my e-mail. Emma deserves all the fresh from the line chocolate she can eat! (And maybe someday I'll get to meet her and eat some too!) Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Life Gives You Improv, Buy Chocolate!

You know I had to salvage something from that long trip to the Catskills - and this blog is about chocolate and motivation after all! Oh yes, my friends - on the way back home - I returned to Asher's! Remember I stopped by on July 3rd, and they were closed. I was bitter, but why hold a grudge? Especially with people who produce chocolate by the bucket.

The factory tour was very lame. Self guided with some video and you get to look out at a bunch of blue machines. Supposedly there is chocolate in them cooling. You see no chocolate. There is one enrobing machine near one of the windows, but they weren't running anything through it. Maybe someday I will actually see some chocolate being made. (I feel like a Knight of the Round table seeking the holy grail.) Note to factory tour people - we want to see chocolate being made! We want to see caramel, nuts, flowing chocolate! WILLY WONKA I need a golden ticket!

But here's the GREAT news!!!!! Asher's chocolate is awesome!!!!! I bought a milk chocolate macadamia praline - incredible! I've had pralines before, but not macadamia. It was fabulous! And their caramel is perfect - not too hard, not too soft - but still nice and chewy. I also got a "three ring peanut butter pretzel with milk string". I'm not sure what milk string is, but this was one good combination of chocolate, peanut butter and pretzel! YUM! Lots of peanut butter, but not too much - a very good balance of all the ingredients.

I also got an assorted box - the woman behind the counter suggested I have her put a box together rather than buy the prepackaged box. It was a much better deal and I got all peanut butter, nuts and caramel (no cremes and jellies - yuck). Asher's caramels are very creamy - actually amazing, and they have some peanut butter combinations that make you think - Reese's who? And that, my friends, is a bold statement coming from me! I've written and requested a list so I could tell you exactly what they all are.

Now you can buy Asher's in some retail outlets like Hallmark. But the one I bought there - a chocolate covered Oreo - was not so good. So don't judge Asher's from what you might get in Hallmark.

Oh - and I found a Reese's Bat! I have to pace though - I'm saving it for tomorrow.

Improv and I Don't Mix

I bailed out on my Improv Retreat. I feel like my friends think I’m a freak for bailing, but I believe the most precious thing I have is my time and I have to use it as best I can. It also is a great example of me being rational! (From our book - Predictably Irrational.) Most people would think - I have paid for this, I am staying. I figure - the money is spent whether I stay or not. Should I throw in another three days of time or eject now?

I work for myself - three working days is huge!

In our predictable irrationality we often throw good money (or time) after bad to justify the original decision. This is why we have such a hard time ditching bad investments. But back to improv.

Upon arrival in the Catskills (i.e. a DAMN long way from Raleigh in no man's land), I was pretty unhappy to discover that my accomodations involved no cell phone coverage, no AC, a tiny creepy room with no phone, and a group bathroom. I knew we were going to have to share bathrooms, but this one was nasty. Call me a wimp, but I like to stay in decent places - I've done my time in creepy hotel rooms, and I work hard so that I'll never have to stay in one again. But, I figured I could suck it up. It would only be for a few days.

Then we had our first session (there were about 40 people there and we were broken up into groups of 8). My group consisted of me, a guy who has been going to these for 14 years, three professional actors, a girl who looked like a fashion model, a lawyer who also does improv and a 17 year old film maker. They were all nice and VERY talented. And very serious about their “craft”. (In other words, no silly nuts like me. Let's just say this group would not think Peeps are funny.)

The first session we had was with Michael Gellman – the Second City guy. He did a bunch of exercises with us. He said, “Everybody stand and just walk around the room. Now I want you to walk as if you are feeling joy. Now sadness. Now anger. Now jealousy. Now envy. Now boredom. Now ennui.”

I’m trying – I’m walking and trying to do what he says – changing my facial expressions, my walking speed, etc. as he calls out a different emotion. I want to ask – what the hell is the difference between jealousy and envy? Between boredom and ennui? Is this guy insane? I also want to know - am I doing this right? Are my expressions good? How can I do better?

After each exercise, he would tell us something like “There is no right or wrong in improv – whatever you do is okay. Don’t judge yourself.”

Everyone else is nodding – like this is the greatest thing ever – like he is so wise. I’m thinking “If everything I do is right, then what do I need to be here for? How to I learn how to get better? What about the apparently subtle nuances between boredom and ennui? What the hell is this guy talking about?"

Then he tells us to walk again and imagine the air is full of color – yellow, purple, blue – it’s sparkling –feel the color - etc. etc. (What the hell? I feel like I've walked into a really bad feng shui seminar.)

Then he has us all build one giant pretend sandcastle together. Not saying anything, just shaping it. I realize that some people are making it about two feet tall, I’m building it life size – there’s no coherence. He says "Great!" – has us stop and asks people what they think. They all say it was a great experience – they could really see the castle, etc. etc. I’m thinking “Castle, my ass! That was a confusing mess!” But I’m trying to figure out the point of all this and not be the problem child. No one likes a whiner/complainer. Who I am to question "The Process"? I am totally outnumbered by “artists." My brain hurts.

Now don't get me wrong - there were many VERY talented people both attending this retreat and teaching it. I was awed by their talent. And this format apparently works for people who - well, who are not me.

That night all the groups unite and two guys from Broadway lead us through some singing improv. Some of these people are obviously professional singers. I do a few things, then sit this out – I’m way too uncomfortable to get up there and sing with professionals. I start to realize that some of these people are totally into themselves – several are SO trying to be the center of attention and show off their talent. Nonetheless, some of the skits are really good. Several are flat out awful. I go back to my crappy room and the nasty bathroom and think, "What the hell am I doing here?" I have so much work to do at home………AND I have AC! And a nice bathroom…with a hot shower and no bugs.

I actually load up the car that morning, but decide to stay for at least the first two classes and wind up staying the whole day. I want to see all the instructors before I decide what to do. (And I thought about rush hour traffic around Manhattan on the way home. That completely cooled my jets.)

Class One – voice stuff. This instructor has us start by pretending we are opera divas and singing. I suck it up and volunteer to start and belt out opera to my group. Feel like an idiot, but I really try and do all the crazy stuff they ask me to do. She has us do a lot of stuff – silly voices, funny motions, etc. But remember – anything you do is okay. Nothing is wrong. I don’t see how I’m going to get better at anything. I can't tell if anything I do is working or not.

Class Two – this guy completely screws around for two hours. Tells us about all the famous people he’s worked with. We do one exercise – you close your eyes and walk and the other people form a circle and keep you in it and safe from walking into anything. It’s one of those trust exercises like when you fall back and people catch you. I’m thinking – whee – this is fun, but how is this going to make me a better speaker?

Class Three – this guy is a dialog guy. He asks two of the experienced actors (that would be everyone except me and the 17 year old) to do a scene. He gives them a scenario (they are brother and sister, they are at their parents’ house). They do a great job and act this scene for about 30 minutes. Again, I’m thinking – how can I apply this? I can’t do what these people are doing, they are experienced actors. Even if I could do it, what do I do with it? How can I learn from this?

Class Four – this lady teaches you to breathe through dance. Yep – she played music and we had to dance. Some was classical, some was jazz. We even had to do a dance solo to ballet music. (I’m thinking what the hell does this have to do with anything?) If I’m not learning anything, I’d rather be dancing to music I like. I ask her about this whole breathing thing – told her when I was in the zone – when I was in the middle of a great speech, I didn’t even notice my breathing. When I was having a tough time with an audience was when I noticed my breathing. How do I work with this? She just nodded and repeated the “don’t judge” mantra. At this point, I was wondering if maybe these people had drunk just a little too much of their own Kool-Aid.

That night we all got together and another instructor had us acting out characters – old men, young women, etc. etc. etc. I couldn’t tell if my characters were any good – I wanted help to make them better, but everything you do is okay, don’t judge. How the hell can you learn anything if everything you do is okay? Why even have classes? I didn’t get it.

I'd tell some of the people that they had done a really great job and say something like - "Wow, you were awesome! Are you a professional singer?" And they would say yes and look at me like I was a paparazzi. Maybe they were trying to do gratitude, but it sure looked like condescension. I wanted to tell everyone to lighten up. I should have brought some candy. But I feel I would have been casting Peeps before swine.

It was fun, but if I’m going to take a week off work, it’s either going to be for a vacation I want to take or I’m going to be learning something to be a better speaker. I’m not taking a week off to dance to classical music and make faces in the woods! I’ve got stuff to prepare for filming in Chicago next week; I have real work to do! I did talk with some of the instructors and told them I was having a hard time figuring out how this could be applied to speaking. I said that in speaking, you have to really connect with the audience. Gellman told me the audience didn’t matter, in Improv it was all about the actors. And when I realized that no one was going to give me any instruction – because whatever you do is right – I really felt like it was a frustrating waste of time.

I dunno – maybe I should have stayed – I just felt like I was from another galaxy. In my galaxy exercises have outcomes or points they illustrate. In my galaxy, the audience is everything and what works is what works for them. If I was trying to express ennui, and the audience thought I was expressing sadness - it didn't work. Oh - and in my galaxy - there are clean bathrooms, AC, and working phones! And we laugh at Peeps - and ourselves.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Irrational about Chocolate

Ah - nothing like a five and a half hour car ride to suck the life right out of you! I'm halfway to my Improv Retreat and continued listening to Predictably Irrational. The segment today covered how insane we become when the word FREE is involved. And the best part? The author's examples involved chocolate!

The first experiment involved offering people the choice of buying a Hershey's Kiss for 1 cent or a Lindt Truffle for 15 cents. Now, I do like the Hershey's Kiss, but a Lindt Truffle will make your eyeballs roll back in your head. They are so smooth and creamy - there really is no comparison. The author (Dan Ariely) mentions the fact that Lindt Truffles are made with Swiss Chocolate by a company that's been making them for 160 years. And that Hershey's pumps out 80 million kisses a day.

When offered this deal, 73% of the people bought the Truffles.

However, when the price of each was lowered by 1 cent, making the Lindt Truffle 14 cents and the Hershey's Kiss FREE, guess what happened? 69% of the people wanted the free Kiss.

This is completely irrational. And completely predictable. We can't help ourselves. We want free.

He gives another example. This one not only involving chocolate, but also Halloween. I think I love Dan Ariely. When a Trick or Treater came to his door, he asked the child to hold out his hand. He then placed three Hershey's Kisses in the boy's palm. He then told the child he could trade one Hershey's Kiss for a small Snickers Bar or two Hershey's Kisses for a large Snickers Bar. This kid was no fool - he traded two Kisses for the large Snickers. As did every other kid given this set of options. (I wish somebody would have offered me that deal as a kid. I wish somebody would offer me that deal right now.)

But things changed when FREE got in the mix. The kids were given the same set up - three Hershey's Kisses in the palm. Then they were told they could have the large Snickers for one Kiss or the small Snickers for FREE. 70% of them took the smaller bar for free!!!! And not just the kids, MIT students did the same thing. When FREE enters the picture we lose our minds.

We fall for this in a million different ways - we buy an extra book we don't really want from to quality for FREE shipping. We buy two of something we really didn't want to get the third thing we really don't want for FREE. We line up at conferences for FREE stuff we will later throw away. His advice - when FREE makes an appearance be very, very careful. Make sure you're not settling for something you really don't want just because it's free. (Like those "Kids eat free" offers. Yeah, they eat free, and you eat swill.)

By the way, I do give out FREE chocolate at my chocolate seminars!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Camp and Chocolate

I head out tomorrow for a week long improv workshop in the Catskills. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also a little nervous. I mean here's the description:

A balanced immersion into the craft of performing primarily through the skills of improvisation. At the Improv Retreat, participants work daily in small group sessions with improv instructors Gary Austin (founder of L.A.’s The Groundlings) and Larry Rosen (faculty, Second City); playwright/author Jeffrey Sweet; L.A. vocal coach Wenndy MacKenzie; New York actor, director and performance coach Carol Fox Prescott, actor/physical comedian Kenny Raskin (Cirque du Soleil, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) and Michael J. Gellman (senior faculty & director, The Second City). Evening sessions include Song Improvisation with Noel Katz (Second City), as well as lecture/demonstrations, round table discussions, and an improvisational extravaganza for the whole group.

These people are FAMOUS! There will be real actors in my class! Holy crap! I'm starting to wonder what the heck I was thinking when I signed up. I mean Song Improvisation? I don't even like to sing Happy Birthday. I was lip-syncing way before Milli Vanilli.

Here's the deal - I'm a speaker. I'm kind of funny. People like it when the speaker is funny. I want to be more funny. Thus - improv. Sometimes the only way to get better is to do something that scares you. It might be asking for help or going back to school - there are many things that scare us, but they are what help us grow.

So either I'll be really funny after this or just bitter.

I'm going to try and blog during the class, but hang in there if I get slack. I feel like I'm going to summer camp. Maybe summer prison camp. Public singing? God help me.

Speaking of summer camp, my friend Karen (the one I visited in PA) has a son at summer camp. And look at these cool art projects they did:

Those are like a beautiful dream. Can you imagine having a Crunch Bar that size? Or a Reese's Cup? Maybe a Peanut M & M the size of your head? Yay!

Maybe there will be s'mores at my Improv Retreat.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chocolate Quotes

One of the things I liked about Wilbur's was that they had some chocolate "stuff" - books, magnets, etc. Not a lot, but a couple of things. One thing I didn't like - no assortments. You had to commit to buying a good sized box of whatever candy you wanted to try. I'm telling you - these folks are making some money!

Let me say that Peanut Butter Non-Pareils are not as good as you would think. They look good, they seem like a great idea, but they are a little too sweet. Think peanut butter fudge with sprinkles. Now, don't get me wrong - they weren't horrible - I would have eaten the whole box, BUT - and this is horrifying - each one has almost 100 calories! Now you know how big a nonpareil is, right? They are about the size of a quarter. For 100 calories I can have a whole tablespoon of peanut butter. Or a chocolate Vitamuffin top. Or a Jell-o Single. These were a caloric rip-off. So sad.

That's the secret to eating what you want - make sure you REALLY want it and don't eat too much. 5 quarter sized peanut butter nonpareils or two Snickers bars? Only the clinically insane would pick the nonpareils.

We are going back to Wilbur's, but I do want to share a few quotes from a cool little book I got there:

Chocolate makes otherwise normal people melt into strange states of ecstasy.
John West, 20th Century American

If there is one flavor that can cause Americans to salivate at the mention of the name, it is chocolate.
Craig Claiborne (b. 1920) American food editor and writer

For who can deny that when the taste buds are seeking excitement, drama and sweet satisfaction, it is neither the potato nor the cranberry to which we turn. It is chocolate.
Lorna J. Sass (b. 1945) American historian and writer

Chocolate, of course, is the stuff of which fantasies are made. Rich, dark, velvety-smooth fantasies that envelop the senses and stir the passions. Chocolate is madness; chocolate is delight.
Judith Olney, 20th-century American chef

Judith also said "Most chocolate chip cookies do not have enough chocolate chips in them." Judith Olney is a goddess.

Flowers speak the language of love for some, but for others, it's chocolate that fans the flames.
Rebecca J. Pate. 20th-century American chef

In Cuba, real men don't eat strawberry ice cream. They eat chocolate.
Jay Carr (b. 1936) American journalist and film critic

How great are those? I say - Give me chocolate or give me death! (or at least give me peanut butter).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Chocolate Fun

In a brief digression from the ChocoTour (I promise we'll get back to Wilbur's tomorrow!), I want to talk about fun. I find that discussions about candy bring out the little kid in everyone. I got in a peanut butter and chocolate discussion at a luncheon today. We were having a blast!

We all take ourselves and life just too damn seriously. We're running around with electronics attached to our heads because we believe we are so important we must be constantly available. I have news.....we're really not that important. Maybe if you are a brain surgeon and lives are at stake - okay. But the rest of us? Please.

Every book on happiness, every spiritual text - they all agree. True happiness is about being present - about being really THERE. I know myself - if I'm checking e-mail while I'm on the phone with someone - I'm not really there for them. If you're sitting in church texting, you're not really experiencing the service. We all think we are great at multitasking - but we're not. You've all seen people on their cellphones pull out in front of other drivers, run red lights and be oblivious to it all. And just because we CAN communicate doesn't mean we should. Here's one side of a call I heard today:

Hey, whassup?


Nuthin' - I'm at Subway.

Nah - just wanted to see what you were up to.

Cool - talk to you later.

Well, that was certainly thought provoking, insightful and well worth holding the line up for.

Here's my thought for the summer - less meaningless communication to fill up every second and more real fun. Don't sit by the pool texting - actually get in the pool. Maybe go crazy and talk with the people around you. Feel the sun - learn a new trick off the diving board. LIVE! You can text from the Old Folks Home.

And you know how fun I think candy is! Here are three fun things to check out:

The new Jell-o Singles - I got one of these in my Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago. It's like a small tube of chocolate powder. You mix it with a 1/2 cup of cold milk - it's very watery and you think there's no way this is going to be anything decent. You let it sit for 5 minutes and like MAGIC - it turns into pretty darn good pudding! I was totally surprised and thrilled! Whee - the wonders of modern food technology! And it was sugar free to boot! (David Copperfield, you need to get in on this!)

The Batman Reese's cup shaped like a bat. I haven't tried this yet, but I can't wait to! I love Reese's and I love the shapes - egg, tree, heart - I swear there is more peanut butter in these and I worship them. A new shape calls for a trip to the convenience store! Hey - you're paying all that money for gas - might as well make it fun and have a Reese's Bat! Yay!

My heroes at Mars (they have taken the M & M to marketing heights that take my breath away) have come up with something new, fun, fascinating and amazing. You send them a picture of a face and they will put it on an M & M!

How they can print so small I have no idea, but how fun is that??? Can you imagine? You could make M & M's of your kids, pets, enemies, presidential candidates - the possibilities are endless!! I think I might feel famous if my face were on M & M's. But for God's sake, don't send in the Naked Cowboy's picture - he'll sue.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chocolate LIES!

Well, maybe LIE is a strong word. Perhaps I should go with gross exaggeration.

The Wolfgang brochure has a picture of someone actually making chocolate above the description of its factory tour. "Chocolate candies, hollow-chocolate bunnies and Santas, and peanut butter puffs are just a few of the candies you'll see. From the raisin room to the "Lucy Line" you'll never forget this educational, fun-filled experience!" This is written over a picture of clusters going through an enrobing machine to coat them in chocolate.

LIE or GE (gross exaggeration)? They did turn a machine on, but they weren't making anything. I say don't put pictures of chocolate being made in your brochure and then walk people through idle machinery. Fun-filled? Without the chocolate? I don't think so! (I need another Peanut Butter Kiss.)

I already told you about making a pretzel at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery (HA!) and their website says you will see people making soft pretzels. Well, they weren't making them when I was there. I say outright lie on the seeing pretzels made, GE on making a pretzel. I did twist some dough.

Now we get to Wilbur Chocolate where the brochure says, "watch our candy makers at work hand-dipping homemade marshmallows into luscious Wilbur chocolate and creating mounds of gooey caramel crunch, chunks of velvety almond bark, and rich pralines chockful of pecans and cashews." My mouth is watering just typing this!

This is a big time GE, bordering on a LIE. What I saw was two elderly ladies - one was slowly painting some color on some molded chocolate stars and another was dipping pretzels into what looked like a crock pot filled with chocolate. Both appeared on the verge of death. I saw no "mounds of gooey caramel crunch or chunks of velvety almond bark." I would have given my right arm for an Oompa Loompa. This looked more like a cart at the State Fair than a candy kitchen.

I will come back to Wilbur's, but I must go on to the greatest LIE of all at Asher's. This one still breaks my heart and raises my blood pressure. I timed my entire day on July 3rd to make sure I would get across the state to Asher's in plenty of time for the 3:30 pm tour. The web site gave their hours, including holiday hours, so I thought if I was there before 3:00 pm, I should be golden. Now let's remember that I have DRIVEN from North Carolina to the great state of PA for my Chocotour. I put over 1,000 miles on my car. Not only did I miss the tour - Asher's was CLOSED! Holiday hours on the site mention Memorial Day and major holidays. Since when is the day BEFORE the 4th of July considered a major holiday? AIIEEE!!!!!

With the exception of my arch enemies at Asher's, I know what's going on here - good old P.T. Barnum style marketing. All they really need to do is lure suckers like me in - once I'm there I will indeed spend a lot of money, even if the "factory tour" is totally lame. This only works if you don't want repeat visitors, which, quite honestly, I don't think they do. It's the tourist trade - we're just passing through. I can't pass too harsh a judgement on them because this GE marketing strategy works. And (with the exception of Julius Sturgis where they charge $3.00) all the "tours" were free and there were samples.

But I'm still really bummed about Asher's.

The Candy I Almost Missed

Before we get to Wilbur Chocolates, I have to digress and return to Wolfgang Candy. Please understand that I purchased more candy at these places than one human can reasonably consume in a lifetime. When it comes to my lifelong love affair with sweets, reason has nothing to do with it.

Since I bought so much, it's going to take me a while to try it all. I've tried some losers (the Oyster Cracker Debacle) and my first true (and surprising) winner. This was a candy I almost didn't buy. I have learned that just because something involves peanut butter it is not necessarily good. I have had some HORRIBLE peanut butter concoctions and I believe there is a special place in culinary hell for those who so desecrate peanut butter.

So when I saw Wolfgang Candy's Peanut Butter Kisses, I was intrigued, yet skeptical. The women (some really just girls) who worked here were great. But super sales people, they were not. I asked if the assortment I purchased included everything and they said yes. Further interrogation (What about these? And these? Are these in there? I am nothing if not obsessive) revealed it did not and there were more delicacies I had to purchase. Ah, I should start a sales training program for the candy industry - sales would skyrocket. Step One - Hire people who are excited about candy! Wheee!

When the Peanut Butter Kisses caught my eye, I was suspicious. The box has no description. There is a window on the front through which you see the kisses wrapped in yellow wax paper. No chocolate is involved and I have no idea why they are called kisses. My questions began immediately - "What about these? What are they like? Are they gross? Are they like those orange and black wax paper wrapped Halloween candies? I hate those. I mean I'll eat them eventually but only after all the good candy is gone. Are these good? Should I try them?" Okay, I was a little amped up on sugar. I was running on a soft pretzel and four chocolate samples.

The girls - so young they were not really sure what I was talking about with the orange and black Halloween candy and probably have never been allowed to Trick or Treat lest they be killed by some manic - assured me that these were good. That it was peanut butter wrapped in vanilla taffy. An older employee said they were nothing like those horrible Halloween candies. "What the hell?" I decided. (Is "What the hell?" really a decision?) When will I be here again? And I can eat seven of these babies for only 180 calories!

Did I mention I drove to Pennsylvania from North Carolina? (A good 7 hour car ride, 8 with returning 4th of July traffic) I ate my first Peanut Butter Kiss as I began my drive home. Holy peanut butter, Candy Man! These things are awesome!!! The peanut butter is like real out-of-the-jar good, fresh peanut butter. And the taffy is almost creamy. The combination is genius! There are 77 kisses in a box. I bet I ate 45 on the way home. I just polished off the last of them. I wish I had more.

Now I understand the name - if Peanut Butter could kiss you, this is how it would do it. And let me just say that peanut butter can kiss me anytime!

Lesson - try new things. Be open. The Chocolate Covered Oyster Cracker may be bad, but the Peanut Butter kiss may rock your world! And see things for yourself - I asked the girls what else I should try and they didn't suggest anything. I would have missed out if I relied on them. Explore the world on your own. Listen to the advice of others, but keep your own counsel. Your journey will be unlike anyone else's - follow your interests and your curiosity. But above all - take the journey! The candy store of life is open - where are you?

Monday, July 7, 2008

No Death by Chocolate...

I am still alive! I decided that blogging when you are someones house guest is rude. I mean you are there to see and actually interact with them, right? I will not get on my technology and rudeness soapbox, but I am sooo tempted - don't even get me started on cell phones!

Okay - back to the ChocoTour! On the morning of the 3rd, I went to the York Barbell Company. I'm a pretty avid weightlifter (hey - I gotta work off all this chocolate somehow!) and I wanted to see the company's Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Plus I just think it's interesting to go to the source of things. I've been lifting with York plates for years and now I know where they come from.

This sign is great - the weightlifter rotates! I love it! They have some fascinating exhibits in the hall of fame - strong man stuff, etc. From there I went to Lititz to the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery founded in 1861 - supposedly the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the US. It was neat to see the old pretzel ovens and you kind of make your own pretzel. You roll some dough and make a pretzel shape. But you don't get to bake it or see it baked. But, hey, it was fun and there were samples! Oh - and yes, there was a gift shop. I even spent money at the York Barbell factory store! God help me

The pretzel originally started out as a sweet - a cinnamon and sugar concoction. They still sell some of those - call them Cinnamon Sticks (cute!) and they are pretty good. Taste like cinnamon toast to me. And they have chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels. And just plain peanut butter filled pretzels. All are fabulous!! And way too addictive - the pretzel, chocolate, peanut butter combo should probably be illegal. The Surgeon General should step in.

Side note here - I grabbed a HUGE tin of milk and white chocolate covered pretzels at the Utz factory (the chocolate came from the Wolfgang factory - how cool is that?) to take to my friend Karen's house. After all - I couldn't show up empty handed! These were terrific - fresh from the factory makes all the difference. And guess what? The ones that went the fastest were the white chocolate ones!! So there, chocolate snobs - white chocolate deserves a place at the chocolate table. I pine for the Zero bar.

Another side note - summer is an idiotic time to take a Chocotour. As I bought chocolate, I had to carry it with me everywhere. I couldn't leave it in my car - it would melt! As it was, my chocolate covered pretzels melted a bit and got stuck together when they cooled. Part of what makes chocolate have such great "mouthfeel" is its low melting temperature. Chocolate melts at around 72 degrees - can you imagine what would happen to it in a hot car? As it was, everything I have looks a bit messy. But a little melting didn't stop us - we could pry those pretzels apart - we're no food snobs!

I am quickly becoming a food tourist. I have to try whatever an area is known for - it just makes the trip so much more fun! People love to talk about their local specialties. And, among other things, PA is known for pretzels and chocolate. Pretzels were actually first invented by monks sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries. The shape of the pretzel was made to resemble a person's arms in prayer. Who knew?

There are hard pretzels (and REALLY hard pretzels) and soft pretzels. Pretzels come in all shapes and sizes and coatings and fillings. They have an interesting history and they are relatively low in fat and calories. There is so much more to EVERYTHING than we know. We eat pretzels and don't give them a second thought. Think how many things (and people) you interact with on a daily basis and how little you know about most of them. Going deeper into life instead of just coasting along the surface makes it so much richer and more enjoyable. Try it this summer - spend more time listening to someone than talking. Ask them about their childhood or their dreams - go a little deeper. If you take a vacation, learn about something on the trip - about anything that strikes your fancy. Ask the waitress what her favorite dish is or how the place got its name. Notice the world around you and interact with it - don't just sleepwalk through it.
Next stop - Wilbur Chocolates!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chocolate Factory Revelations

Today was a whirlwind tour of factories (more tomorrow!). I started with the Harley Davidson plant (how eclectic am I? FLW one day - chrome and leather the next!). The plant wasn't operating, but I got to see some great displays, a cool video, the new models and spent a fortune in the gift shop. You will see that spending a fortune in gift shops is a trend for me. (I left quite a bit of cash at the Falling Water gift shop.)

From there I went to Snyder's where one side of the factory makes pretzels and the other side makes potato chips. It's WAY cooler to see them make potato chips. I didn't know all those pretzels are made by punching dough out of different size pretzel molds. I guess I thought a human was involved in some way and the pretzels were like snowflakes - no two alike. Yeah, whatever. I was in pretzel fantasy land.

They did have a great factory store where (you guessed it ) I invested heavily in the local economy. Although in the Snyder's factory shop for about $40 you can get a carload of pretzels. It was here that I saw the Tastykakes. I have long heard about how great the Tastykake is - usually brought up when I an expounding on the glories of the Little Debbie. (I love the Little Debbie Swiss cake roll. Little Debbie is right up there with FLW as far as I'm concerned. He owns architecture, she has snack cakes. I'm an equal opportunity cult member.) I have trouble with cakes and cookies - they are like Nutella and peanut butter to me. I cannot control myself, so I knew better than to buy boxes of regular Tastykakes. I bought the low fat 100 calorie Tastykakes.

Okay - they are awesome!!! They come in chocolate and carrot cake and I've already eaten way too many. Thank God I didn't get the regular ones. These are amazingly moist and taste like the full fat and calorie version - yum! Debbie who?

Oh, I'll be trying more of these Tastykakes before I head back down south! I just have to go to convenience stores where I can buy just one. Portion control is my only chance - these are much too dangerous to buy in quantity. Stay tuned!

A quick swing by Utz's factory store - no time for the tour - had to get to Wolfgang Chocolates for the 2:00 tour. The folks at Wolfgang are the best. I wanted to try one of everything and they were great - helping me figure out how to do it without buying a million dollars worth of chocolate. And don't freak out - I didn't try them all today! Even I can only consume so much.

Wolfgang is was started in the family's home back in 1921. You can see where they lived and how they expanded. The factory is in a couple of buildings in a neighborhood. Now get this - they buy the chocolate (made according to their recipe) from other supplies and the truck pulls up to the back of the factory pipes it into big storage vats! How cool is that? Again - I'm thinking people are somewhere making the stuff in the back, not trucking it in! So naive I am. (Do I think there are Oompa Loompas in there too?) They use about 1 million pounds of chocolate a year - they would need to use 3 million pounds to make manufacturing it themselves economically feasible. Oh - the milk chocolate comes in the truck. The dark chocolate comes in big ten pounds bars which they temper and use to coat and make their treats.

But I have to say the tour was disappointing. I didn't get to see them make a damn thing. I had to wear the paper shower cap and we got to walk through the factory, but nothing was being made. I thought that was a gyp. But hey - it was free and I got samples! : )

And I learned a new lesson - some things should not be covered in chocolate. Nuts - yes! Peanut butter - yes! Fruit - yes! (Don't get crazy - not the tomato.) But Wolfgang had something I was dying to try - chocolate covered Oyster crackers. You know - those little crackers made for soup. I thought this was an intriguing idea.

No - think chocolate covered saltine. It's a no-go. Too bland. Animal crackers - yes, graham crackers - yes, Oreos - yes, pretzels - yes. Oyster crackers - I say no. I think it's good to try new things, but, as hard as it is to believe, not everything is improved by coating it in chocolate. Perhaps we can equate this to fashion. Not everyone looks good in every "hot" trend. For example, skinny jeans. With the exception of Amy (I need to stay in rehab) Winehouse and Poison, no one looks good in skinny jeans. Find your own path - no one has all the answers. And one answer isn't right for every person. One style does not fit all and not everything is better with chocolate. Peanut butter, however .........

ChocoTour 2008 - Day One

Not many people know this, but my undergraduate degree is in art history. I had this great plan that I would combine that with an MBA and be a corporate art consultant. I had interviews all over the country, but no one wanted to pay me much, and I was going to have to live someplace like Manhattan or LA. Minimum wage in Manhattan was of no interest to me (although one potential employer suggested I live with my grandparents in New Jersey and commute). Needless to say, I pursued another career path.

But my art history studies introduced me to art and architecture and long ago I joined the cult of Frank Lloyd Wright. (I also have a thing for the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead, supposedly inspired by Wright.) If you like FLW, visiting Falling Water is a must. It's probably the most famous of his buildings. I never think it's possible, but Frank Lloyd always exceeds my expectations.

I really can't explain Falling Water to you - you've probably seen pictures. It's the home he built on a waterfall. The pictures look great, but being in the house - looking down on the water and HEARING it rush past - those are things you have to experience to truly appreciate. He even has a set of glass doors in the living room that open on a flight of stairs that lead right down to the river. It's so close and so unexpected - it takes your breath away. You can pretty much sit on the couch and fish. You have to see it to really understand how amazing and fantastic it is. And the fact that he built this in 1935 is just awe-inspiring. It still seems cutting edge. He was almost 70 - doing some of his best work. (See why I'm in the cult?)

Maybe architecture isn't your thing, maybe chocolate isn't your thing - that's not the point. The point is finding your thing. What do you find interesting? What fascinates you? Are you pursuing that interest? Or are you making excuses? I could have come up with a million excuses NOT to go to Falling Water. Gas is expensive; I have plenty of work to do; I don't have anyone to go with; wah, wah, wah. Some of the people on the tour couldn't believe I'd come all the way from North Carolina by myself. I said if I wait until I find someone to travel with, I might never go anywhere. And I've come to love solo travel - you go where you want when you want. People interact with you more. And I don't have to worry about someone else's good time. Not everyone wants to go on a two hour in-depth tour of Falling Water. But I'm not living someone else's life. I'm living mine. Who's life are you living?

There's so much world out there!!!! So many things to see and learn and do and taste! How much of it will you try? How much life are you willing to live? Carpe diem! Carpe vita!