Monday, June 30, 2008

ChocoTour 2008 Begins!

Thumbing my nose at the Middle East and the price of gas, today I drove from Raleigh, NC to the mountain metropolis of Frostburg, Maryland. I started listening to a great book - Predictably Irrational. I'm just getting into it and I'm sure I'll have more to share on that soon. So far my thoughts are: traffic within a hundred mile radius of DC is a nightmare and the mountains of Maryland are breathtakingly gorgeous.

The action really starts tomorrow when I visit Falling Water.

But, since my heart belongs to this blog, I had to find something of interest in my last convenience store stop to write about. This is intriguing and disturbing all at the same time (one of my favorite combinations). Hershey's has partnered with Bubble Yum (geez, Hershey's probably owns Bubble Yum - yep, I googled it - they do) to create more dreaded chocolate gum! The package is cool - chocolate brown with the pink Bubble Yum logo and a smaller Hershey's logo with the scary words "genuine chocolate flavor." If you ever see this combination of words, drop the product you are holding and run away - fast. And far. And don't look back. And for God's sake - don't eat it!!!!

I actually bought and chewed this gum so you, dear reader, would not have to. First of all, let me tell you that chocolate gum is a tease. When I have chocolate in my mouth, I want to eat it, not chew it. The closest I ever want to get to chocolate gum is the Tootsie Roll (and I really like the Tootsie Roll). You chew the Tootsie Roll but that's just on the way to eating it. Chewing it is not an end in itself. So I am now opposed to all chocolate chewing gum no matter how good. Chocolate is made to be eaten, not chewed.

The first thing that hit me was the yucky weird taste. After a while, it tastes a little better, maybe because you are over the initial shock and horror? By the time it lost its flavor, I was reminded of hot cocoa mix and plastic. Not good. And each piece has 25 calories! More than a Tootsie Roll Midgee! No good, no good at all.

Ah - I AM going to get to talk about Predictably Irrational after all! In fact, it's the only thing that can explain how the tasters at Hershey allowed this nastiness to bear the Hershey name. Let's begin with the premise that the folks at Hershey decided they wanted to make chocolate gum (the train went off the tracks right here - no one stopped to consider if this was a good idea or not. Or maybe they asked some kids - kids will agree to anything that involves chocolate). But chocolate flavor adds nothing to bubble gum and gum adds nothing to chocolate. But I bet they decided to make a chocolate gum regardless.

Once you've decided to make a chocolate gum, you produce some samples. Some are probably horrible, but you keep trying. The investment of money and energy, etc. increases. Because you have worked so hard and spent so much time, when you get a chocolate gum that tastes much better than the initial chocolate gum - you throw a party and (irrationally) convince yourself you've got a mighty fine product! You only compared the final chocolate gum to the earlier crappy chocolate gum. You didn't compare it to regular bubble gum or a Snickers bar.

We like to compare things. We ask ourselves, "Would I rather marry Joe or Bob?" not "Do I really want to get married at all?" And we compare similar things - if you are trying to choose one of three vacation sites and two are in the beach and one is in the mountains, you are going to the beach (the odds are higher than 2 out of 3). So says the book. Fascinating!

Let's just pray no one decides to make peanut butter gum.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Random Chocolate Thoughts

I head out tomorrow for my ChocoTour 2008 - heading to Pennsylvania. Last time I hit Hershey, so this trip will be to some of the smaller chocolate and candy companies. I'll keep posting as I go so you can share the fun without the calories.

Before I go, however, some very random thoughts:

As I've said before, not everything should try to be chocolate. I originally said this about Pez, now I'm saying it about Trident. Yes, Trident is launching chocolate gum in the UK. It apparently has a liquid chocolate center encased in mint gum. EEEWWW! I've never been overly thrilled by Trident - it's always been pretty ho-hum, but this is just gross. Who knows, maybe the Brits will like it. I still say - be what you are and be really good at it - don't try to be something you're not. Trident should work on being better gum.

With each passing day, I am more astonished by the amount of information on the web. This blog:

http://growabrain.typepad.com/growabrain/food_chocolate/index.html


is amazing! There are links to some of the weirdest and most fascinating chocolate things I have ever seen - including chocolate bubble wrap, a poem entitled Chocolate Jesus accompanied by praying hands made out of chocolate, and chocolate toothpaste from the Philippines. I have abandoned all hope of becoming an expert on anything ever again. There's just too much information out there and it's the wild west - a completely unorganized free for all. I get lost on the Internet regularly! Can't Mars map the Internet Genome? Somebody call Al Gore! Bill Gates is retiring - can't he work on this? What else is he going to do - golf?



I gave a seminar last week and was talking with some of the participants about Niagara Falls. There was a painting of Niagara Falls in the conference room we were using, and I couldn't understand why. This session was in North Carolina. No one had any idea why there was a painting of Niagara Falls in their conference room. No one had asked. (Am I the only one who asks such random questions? How could you NOT ask about such a painting?) Anyway, one of the participants said she was going to go to Niagara this summer, but had decided not to because of the price of gas. I had been there last year and had a blast - I love the grandeur of the falls and the contrast of the cheesy tourist attractions. And there's a Hershey's store there!!! It's a fun place to visit - and the fireworks and the lights on the falls - wow!!



I told her the price of gas was probably not going to drop drastically anytime soon. There was no better time to go! Some people suggested she fly, but she was planning to take her three children with her, so this was out. And get this - she had a free place to stay!!! I told her she was nuts - she might never be able to go any less expensively than she could right now. But she had decided. Seeing Niagara Falls would be something she and her children would remember for the rest of their lives. For what - MAYBE a couple hundred dollars (she was willing to pay $2 per gallon, but not $4, I guess) she is giving up the experience of a lifetime?

Think before you let the price of gas keep you from living life. Really run the numbers. And if you do decide to stay home, take that money and do something worthwhile with it. (Maybe save it for a trip next summer!) My guess is that most people will stay home, blow the $200 on something stupid, have nothing to show for it and will complain that their lives are boring. If you're going to do that, can't you help me organize the Internet? At least the chocolate part? You won't have to drive anywhere. Please?


The Future of Chocolate

I have seen the future, and like NASA, I think it's Mars. Mars is spending $10 million in a five year project with IBM and the USDA to decode the cocoa genome. Shouldn't Michael Crichton be writing something about this? (Of course, we already have Wille Wonka - there was definitely some weird science going on there.)

Seriously, this is a pretty fantastic investment. Cacao trees are tough to grow and are susceptible to disease. They can only grow in certain parts of the world. We're already lost some varieties to climate changes, over harvesting, pests. WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM????? The horror, the horror......

I have Michael's title..."The Day the Chocolate Died." (Once again, I am going to Candy Hell.)

Of course, if the genome is mapped, they can make more varieties, different flavors - who knows what amazing things might come out of this? This is an exciting time in the history of chocolate and we are here to see it! Strap yourselves in, chocolate lovers - we are in for one heck of a ride!

Here's a short (2 minute) video about it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERu5TaqIvHs

The folks at Mars are brilliant to think of the future this way - they know if something happens to those trees it would hurt their bottom line. They also know that knowledge is power and the more they know about chocolate, the better they can make their products and the more money they can make. Bravo to their vision! And for working to save chocolate. (That calls for buying lots of M & Ms and Snickers to support this important research. By eating lots of chocolate, you are actually saving chocolate. Don't do it for yourself, do it for chocolate.)

What trends should YOU see coming? Is technology going to impact your industry? Are you taking steps to prepare yourself? (Knowledge is power - are you learning, gaining new skills?) How's your health? Should you be taking steps now to improve it while you still can? Think ahead like Mars - if you don't take action now in some areas of your life, they could be much harder to deal with down the road. Don't wait until your chocolate (marriage, health, job, etc.) is extinct - work on it now! And take two M & Ms and call me in the morning.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vote Today!!

I must encourage you to go vote at

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20178124,00.html

66% of respondents feel the Blue M & M is sexier than the Naked Cowboy!!! I think a heart of chocolate and a lack of ego are pretty darn sexy! But see for yourself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I See London, I See France

Years ago I was trapped in a hotel gym without control of the remote. One of those cheesy lawsuit shows like "Judge Judy" was on. In this episode the Naked Cowboy was suing or being sued by his wife (or ex-wife or live-in baby's momma or whatever she was). I wasn't paying much attention, but I remember clearly this blockhead's enormous ego. He also is a complete weirdo. Now that truly shouldn't surprise anyone - we're talking about a grown man who makes his living as a street performer singing in his underwear. To hear him tell it, he is a legend. Whatever. I say - man up and put on some pants.

Well, now he's back in court and this time he is suing Mars because they have dressed up the blue M & M like him (GASP!). And did not get his permission or pay him any royalties for using his image. He's suing them for $6 million. How his likeness could possibility be worth $6 million is beyond me.

In the lawsuit, which you can actually read here: http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/02/14/naked.cowboy/index.html
Click on Read the Complaint under Don't Miss

there is a section in which he tries to establish what a massive celebrity he is. And perhaps justify the $6 million. Among other things he says he auditioned for American Idol and Star Search (oooh - AUDITIONED! at this point, who hasn't?) and appeared briefly in the PBS documentary Origins to give his opinion of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. This is one of his major life accomplishments. I have one word for him - pants.

I think the Naked Cowboy should be thrilled Mars dressed an M & M up like him and featured it in a video on Times Square (this is where the Cowboy sells his near nakedness to tourists). He's saying this somehow HURT his cheesy act? I think it gave him credibility! More impressive to be an M & M than a random freak asked about extraterrestrials.

I would love to be made an M & M and have images of my M & M self shown on the Big Screen in Times Square! And as an 89th tier "celebrity" Naked Cowboy should have been thrilled!

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20208469,00.html
Pictures of Blue and Naked

Lesson for the Rest of Us - imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. Don't take yourself too seriously and let your ego get in the way of your goals. Naked Cowboy couldn't afford those Times Square marquees in a million years. That was fantastic free advertising! The problem for him is that his ego can't take being portrayed as an M & M. He sees himself as a celebrity, as bigger than M & M's. (M & M's are international - way more people know about M & M's than the Naked Cowboy.) I say - if you want to be taken seriously, don't wander around Times Square in your underpants singing to yourself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Eat Candy

The word is out - candy is recession proof. We'll give up vacations, we'll take the bus, we might even make our own coffee! But give up candy? Oh hell no! Yay, I say!

Candy got Americans through the Great Depression. Ol' Milton Hershey made chocolate affordable for the masses and we loved it! Soldiers in both World Wars had bars made by Hershey. I bought a pack of Dark Chocolate Peanut M& M's for 54 cents yesterday. Now you just can't beat that!!! I was skeptical of the dark chocolate, but they were fantastic!! That's a whole lotta happy for 54 cents!

When times are tough, we turn to candy. Why? Because it tastes good, it reminds us of our childhoods, it's fun! I want you to take a minute and think of some of the fun you have had with candy, and I would love it if you would share your story with us! Add a comment please!

I like Twizzlers when I'm at the movies. Not only is a Twizzler fun to eat, you can conduct music with it; you can wave it at the characters who are doing stupid things; you can even use it to pop your friends if they need to be kept in line. The Junior Mint is also a great movie candy, although I don't think the Seinfeld surgery episode can be topped. I once had a friend who would get Raisinets (this will also work with Goobers) and dump them in her popcorn, shake it all up and have a great sweet and salty treat. Something about the candy adds to the fun. I mean having a ham and cheese sandwich at the movies just ain't the same thing.

I've never been a pacer - I just chomp my candy right down. But some people have style and staying power. They eat the candy coating and chocolate off their Peanut M & Ms first. Some eat the ridges off Reese's Cups, then the chocolate and try to save the peanut butter for last. I didn't even take Oreos apart as a kid - I was too busy cramming them in. I did however manage to eat the marshmallows last in my Lucky Charms. If you've got stories, I'd love to hear 'em!

Of course, my theory was that while my brother was taking his Oreos apart and licking the cream, I could eat five. Less for him, more for me! I realize there's a special place in candy hell for older sisters like me, but I don't care. I'd steal his Halloween candy if he were here today. Well, if he were here and it were Halloween. Well, if he were here and it was Halloween and we were young enough to go Trick-or-Treating. Well, just so you know what a bad-ass I am when it comes to candy.

I think candy is recession proof because it's one of the few ways adults can still have fun. I've been to both Chocolate World at Hershey and M & M world in Vegas and never have I seen so many delighted adults. The kids were just getting dragged along as props. We're all wrapped so tight, trying to get so much done in so little time, running from one thing to the next, taking ourselves WAY too seriously - we NEED candy! Candy lets us have a little fun and a little pleasure and not go to prison.

It's like the day I almost killed Joe India my customer "service" rep. After I ate a few Tootsie Rolls I was back to my old self. Who can stay mad and eat Tootsie Rolls? It's just not possible. Think about the potential for this - the next time some is furious with you - hand him a Peep. Who can be mad while holding a Peep? Call Condoleezza - world peace is just a few Peeps away.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Emperor has No Clothes

Yesterday there was a full page, four color ad in USA TODAY for the new M & M's Premiums. I mentioned these in an earlier blog - I had read they were foil wrapped, larger than regular M & M's, and in new and intriguing flavors. Yahoo!!! What could be better? When I saw the ad in USA TODAY I knew it was game on and I had to get some. Quick.

First of all, let me warn you women - they are totally targeting us. These are in elegantly shaped boxes and the ad says - "Stylish. Sophisticated. Simply Fabulous!" What guy wants candy described like that? Is it chocolate or a pair of shoes? I can just hear the product planners on this one - "Let's make them shiny! Women like shiny things! Oh, and let's say they are shimmering chocolate gems in five glamorous flavors!" I kid you not - that's what the ad in USA TODAY says - shimmering chocolate gems in five glamorous flavors.

Let me be the first to say I don't want my flavors glamorous.

First of all they are NOT foil wrapped - they are metallic colored.



This is a picture of the Raspberry Almond (pinkish and biggest), Mocha (coppery) and Triple Chocolate (purplish). They are only slightly bigger than regular M & M's - I was expecting them to be significantly bigger. I didn't buy the Mint Chocolate ones because I'm not big on Mint Chocolate and the Chocolate Almond ones were sold out. I was sad, now I'm glad.


Here are my thoughts: Raspberry Almond was my favorite and I'm not a big raspberry person. I do like almonds, however and the combination was good. Would I buy them again? Probably not - I'd rather have regular ol' almond M & M's. (These also cost about twice as much as regular M & M's.)


Triple Chocolate (which is described as "truly tempting layers of milk chocolate, white chocolate & dark chocolate") is just truly lame. Tastes like a blob. These don't have candy shells like regular M & M's, they're just kind of balls of chocolate. I didn't know how much I loved the candy shell until it was gone. M & Ms really benefit from the crunch of the shell. I don't know what these things are - but they ain't M & M's in my book!


Mocha is like a naked M & M mixed with coffee. Ho-Hum. Actually they are all just naked M & M's in trendy flavors. They look really good, but they have nothing to offer.


These will look fancy at parties. They are very trendy. They are indeed "Stylish. Sophisticated. Simply Fabulous!" But they are not as fun and don't taste as good as the regular M & Ms. M& M's Premiums are the fashion models of the M & M's line. They cost more and they look pretty, but they don't have the soul of the regular M & M. They won't be there when you need a good, reliable, noncomplicated chocolate fix. I don't need my candy to be glamorous, I need it to be good.


Maybe they can change the slogan from "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands" to "Who needs flavor when you've got fashion?"

Mars may make a killing with these, but I think they forgot what makes the M & M so good. (And indeed, what makes the M & M the M & M!) It's the candy shell. The crunchy shell offsets the creamy chocolate. It's a neat contrast of textures. It's a beautiful thing already. Why do we have to make everything "stylish, sophisticated, and fabulous?" Those things are like dust in the wind - they change with the passing fancies of designers and other trend setters. Don't we hold qualities such as dependable or loyal or funny or smart as more valuable? Make the most of who you are - that's what makes you extraordinary. Don't buy into other people's ideas of what is "sophisticated and fabulous." What's really fabulous is being yourself. And you don't need metallic coating to do that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Death by (Electronic) Chocolate

It's too much!! There's just too much!! I'm drowning, I'm overwhelmed, I'm going under!! Throw me a strawberry!

First everyone said I should start a blog (that was about five years ago, the technology train long left the station without me). I finally do it and now it's pod casting, and linking to other blogs and sites, and social networking, and live feeds and on, and on, and on! How do people have time to actually do any work anymore? Trying to get your arms around all this technology is like sticking your head in a chocolate fountain. It seems like a good idea until your airways are blocked.

Part of my problem is that I have perfectionist issues (among many other issues which I will attempt to keep to myself). I don't want to know just a little about chocolate - I want to know EVERYTHING about chocolate. At least I think this could be possible. With some topics, you can give it up - they are too vast. Motivation for example. The study of motivation includes psychology, leadership, how the brain functions, communication, and on and on and on. There are at least 500,000,000 people who call themselves "motivation experts" ranging from life coaches (who sometimes can't balance their own checkbooks) to high school gym teachers to formerly homeless people who motivated themselves off the street. It all makes my head hurt. I need some M&Ms.

Well, I'd like to become, some day, very knowledgeable about chocolate and how it can teach us larger lessons. So I've been visiting websites, reading books, getting Google Alerts, visiting chocolate factories, and am trying not to tank the whole idea because it is so damn overwhelming. Every blog mentions a new website which links to another site which references a book - AIEEE! At the end of the day I feel a little smarter, but also like I'm farther back than when I started.

I'm willing to bet a lot of you feel the same way. It's not chocolate you're researching, but maybe it's something else. Or maybe it's your e-mail inbox - you send out three, you get back five. You went to a meeting which took two hours and you got three new assignments (and 40 more e-mails). Your head is in the chocolate fountain too.

Here are my thoughts to save myself which I hope will help you too:

1.) Pull your head out of the fountain. First we have to pull back - you can't concentrate when chocolate is going up your nose. Do what you need to do - go to lunch by yourself, take a day off, go sit in your car. What you have to have is some quiet and some solitude. And stop making excuses - you can get it if you want it.

2.) Wipe the chocolate off your eyes. You've got to get a clear perspective on things. Ask yourself, "Which of the 10 million things I could be doing right now would have the greatest impact on my success?" (Now you have to define success for yourself - is success for you spending time with your family? having fun? making money? making your boss happy?) And don't give me that crybaby answer, I've got to do whatever my boss says. Your boss is not dictating your every move. Most bosses WISH their employees would think for themselves. As long as you're blaming your circumstances on anyone other than yourself, chocolate is still covering your eyes.

3.) Control the dripping. You can't deal with everything at once. People have lost their minds when it comes to technology. If you are going to respond to every e-mail you get in ten seconds, you might as well switch your brain to off. You aren't going to be able to focus on anything or do any kind of analysis or deep thinking. Figure out some way to carve blocks of time into your day to complete projects that will really make a difference.

4.) Let go of the crumbs. There are probably going to be some chocolate crumbs in your hair even after you've washed it a few times. Would it be better to spend three hours and make sure every crumb was gone or spend 45 minutes and get on with your life? Don't beat everything to death - do your best, and let it go. Finishing the project is what counts, not how fancy the clip art was adorning the cover. Don't get lost in the details - remember the goal. And hey, if you go around smelling like chocolate, who knows what great things might happen?

Just know you are not alone - there are a lot of us with chocolate crumbs in our hair.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paula Deen is the Devil

Paula Deen is the Devil because she's sending me to Hell. I think that would be the perfect title for a country and western song. In fact, let's just write a few lines:



Paula Deen is the Devil, 'cause she's sending me to Hell.
She bakes all these good de-sserts that make my middle swell.
Chocolate pies and chocolate cookies and then there's chocolate cakes.
Some of these damn de-sserts you don't even have to bake!
I used to be able to fit into my jeans
and then I bought a magazine writ by Paula Deen
Just lookin' at those pictures made me want to eat
And not just anything, something chocolately and sweet!
I just can't stop, I just eat pell-mell,
Paula Deen is the Devil and she's sent me straight to Hell.


Have you seen a copy of Paula Deen's special collection magazine devoted completely to chocolate? If not, SAVE YOURSELF! Don't even look at the cover! Paula and her cute self are there holding the biggest chocolate mousse cake known to man. The magazine is gorgeous, the pictures are amazing, and all the recipes look delicious. I wanted to lick several of the pages.

Here's the problem - and it's not really Paula's fault - if I see chocolate, I want to eat chocolate. If I had a chocolate mousse cake in my house, I would eat the entire chocolate mousse cake. Soon. Like in one day. I'd like to tell you I could have just one small piece, that I could pace myself, that I could savor the mousse cake. But I cannot.


So what does one who wants to savor life and not ban the food of the gods from one's home do? I have some ideas:

1.) Know thyself. If this is you, admit it. Embrace your lack of control and don't try to fight your nature. Work with it.

2.) Bring in only small amounts of the dangerous substance. If I really want chocolate mousse cake, a better option for me is to go to a restaurant and have one piece. Europeans do this at chocolate shops. They only buy one or two pieces (not three gigantic boxes). It's that crazy moderation thing.

3.) Cast out the Devil! I had to pitch the Nutella. It was good, I loved it, but it was like cocaine! I wanted to eat it every night! A lot of it! And Nutella is the caloric and nutritional equivalent of chocolate frosting. I can't start eating spoonfuls of frosting every night. One of the world's top chocolate tasters maintains her weight by tasting a chocolate (eating a very small bit) and throwing the rest away. Now I know this seems wasteful but if, like me, you can't control yourself, better to try and pitch than never try at all. (Sorry Shakespeare). Or even worse, shove it all in so you don't "waste it." What - are you going to send a half eaten jar of Nutella to Dafur?

4.) Become a connoisseur. Only eat things you really enjoy and know what you're eating. Let me use our fun M & M ice cream treats as an example. The ice cream treats were fun, I'm really glad I tried them (I ate two and pitched three). Why didn't I eat them all? 200 calories each is why. I can have TWO Slim-A-Bear ice cream sandwiches for that. And I actually like them better. Allocate your calories wisely. You can still eat great things. Just not every great thing. In massive quantities. At once.


Here's the bottom line - I love chocolate, I will not give it up. Give me chocolate or give me death! (Sorry Patrick Henry) But I also am not going to buy a new wardrobe. I want to have my chocolate mousse cake and fit in my jeans too. Get thee behind me, Paula Deen!

Friday, June 20, 2008

ChocoTour - Summer 2008

In about a week, I will be leaving on my latest adventure. It all started because the 4th of July is yet another of those holidays that is no damn fun to spend by yourself. Last year I had a blast - visited some friends in Buffalo, toured two gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright homes (FLW is a god in my country), danced one night away on a boat in Lake Chautauqua , and made a pig of myself at the taste of Buffalo.

This year is shaping up to be even better! I'm heading up to see my friend Karen Friedman (who was with me in Hershey, PA when I became an official member of the Cult of Chocolate).

Before I was just a semi-normal person who liked chocolate. Now I'm eating Nutella (which is going to have to go the banned substances list with peanut butter. There was a late night eating incident.), blogging about chocolate and trying to get my hands on chocolate Peeps. Oh yes, baby - they exist! Two different flavors of chocolate no less! How have we all been able to live without this knowledge? Clearly I have lost my mind.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension." My mind is now permanently in another dimension.

Back to the Cult. Karen lives in Pennsylvania, which has some great chocolate and confectionery history. In fact, the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Confectioners' Association lists as members about every big name in the chocolate business. According to the Governor of PA, "For decades, Pennsylvania's fresh dairy resources, transportation infrastructure, and quality workforce have enticed and retained candy manufacturers..." And don't forget the Amish! Clearly a good place for a pilgrimage.

I'm starting with Falling Water - one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous buildings. I've always wanted to see this architectural masterpiece, and it's in PA. From there I'm heading across the state - Karen lives outside of Philly. First stop - York, PA where I will get to see the home of Harley Davidson bikes, Snyder Pretzels, and Wolfgang Candy. HD isn't running when I'll be there, but I'm touring both the Snyder's Factory and Wolfgang Candy. According to the Wolfgang Candy web site, theirs was ranked as one of the "Top Five Tasty Tours" by the food network). www.wolfgangcandy.com The Snyder's people don't mess around - they told me not to be late - you can't join a tour in progress. There are only three tours a day and the one after mine is full. Be there at 11:00 am sharp - or you're out of luck! So much for summer fun at the ol' pretzel factory.

There are also a couple of small candy makers I want to check out - Anstine's Candy Box and Fitzkee's Candies. And a company that makes animal crackers - Stauffer's - no tour but a factory outlet. And they have more flavors of animal crackers than I knew existed. Take that, Pretzel Nazis!

The next day I'm heading to see Wilbur Chocolate in Lititz, PA where there is a candy Americana Museum. Wheee! And needless to say - one helluva lot of chocolate. Then I'm heading to Oxford, PA where there's a Neuchatel Chocolate Factory - no tour, but a big retail outlet. And the website looks delish! www.neuchatelchocolates.com This is a Swiss Company that markets the Swiss Chip (a chocolate covered potato chip). You gotta be kidding me - surely that's an American invention! It seems WAY too trailer trash for the Swiss. I am sooo going to interrogate their poor store clerk about that. Let's just hope the clerk doesn't start quoting Einstein. Finally, I'm heading to Asher's Chocolates in Souderton, PA. www.ashers.com Then I'll link up with Karen and who knows what might happen then. (Perhaps I'll go to the hospital in a diabetic coma?)

What about you? What are you doing this summer? Will it be different? Will it make you think? Will it take your mind to a new dimension? If not, why? You'll only have the Summer of 2008 once. Follow your passion, your curiosity - or just your taste buds. Carpe vita!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Grocery Cart Named Desire

My good friend Heidi Rafferty is the perfect wife and mother. The kind who not only runs a thriving business, but also bakes and takes amazing care of her family. She is also a drug dealer. She encouraged me to try Nutella and today I did. I am already hooked. Apparently there are many Nutella addicts - when I bought it at the grocery store today, I casually asked the young checker if he had tried it.

To my surprise, he not only said yes, but said it was like chocolate peanut butter. He said his favorite sandwich was Nutella, marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and jelly! I said that sandwich would kill you. (See how subtle and diplomatic I am?) He responded (I kid you not) by quoting Einstein! (This was before I ate any Nutella, so I was not under the influence.) The grocery store checkout boy said "Well, Einstein said there's a penalty on all things we enjoy. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat."

What the hell? I think my mouth was hanging open at this point (still Nutella-less). I laughed - surely Einstein didn't say anything about getting fat! I, of course, said this out loud to the checker and asked how he knew Einstein quotes anyway. This was a bizarre conversation and I really just wanted to get out of there and eat my Nutella. He quoted Einstein again - this time a more Einstein-ish quote and said (as if he were talking to a small child) that there were Web sites with quotes on the Internet.

Well, no kidding, Grocery Boy! My question was really why the heck would a young man randomly QUOTE Einstein and in relation to Nutella? What dimension had I slipped into? Was I in the grocery store or the Twilight Zone? But the next customer was demanding service, and the Einstein-quoting, Nutella eating grocery checker had to go.


I came home, and with something like reverence, opened my jar of Nutella. I spread some on a rice cake - I wanted to taste the Nutella, but not just eat gobs of it. Nutella is as full of fat and calories as peanut butter, and I don't want to become the poster child for Albert E's fat quote. Nutella is good and it would be really good with peanut butter. But it's a little rich for me. In other words, I won't be pulling a Marlon Brando, screaming "Nutella!, Nutella!" anytime soon. And speaking of fat...I digress.

I checked - the Grocery Store boy was right. That is an actual Einstein quote! Well, at least according to some sources on the 'Net. The quote they give is "The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat." I'm still not sold on Einstein saying this, but hey - maybe so. But since I am so subtle and diplomatic, I'm going to have to disagree with Albert Einstein. Check me out - disagreeing with a genius! "Wheee!!! Here I go!"

There is no penalty on all the things we enjoy in life. How about the beauty of a sunset? The sound of music? The kiss of a loved one? Even Nutella? With moderation and a little self control you can enjoy a lot of things without suffering in health, soul or getting fat. How pessimistic, bleak and flat out wrong that quote is!

I really don't think it was Einstein who said that. I think it was Marlon Brando.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There's No Need to Scream for Ice Cream

I did it - for the sake of this blog I threw myself on the wooden stake of an M & M's Ice Cream Treat. They were everything I thought they would be and more. Festive? Yes - nicely designed package, the ice cream looks just like an M & M (even has the M imprint), and you are informed you will get at least two different colors of treat. The Mars people must have thought we would feel gypped if we got all one color (I know I would) AND I actually expected all to be different. Well, really I didn't give it that much thought, but in retrospect.... And there is a layer of chocolate and a layer of color. I guess it's colored chocolate. Hell, I don't really know what it is, but it's good. This is basically an Eskimo Pie with a thicker and WAY more festive shell. And there are only 5 to a pack, vs. six in a pack of every other treat in the freezer. You go, Forrest Mars! Laugh all the way to the bank! I'll even help you carry your money! I'm just glad to have such a fun treat - a giant M & M made of ice cream on a stick! What could be better?

I was eating one in my car on the way home from the grocery store (I mean they might have melted, I didn't want to lose them!) and I wanted to stick my head out the car window and yell, "Wheeee!"

You know what's better? There are jokes on the sticks! I swear!! I couldn't make these jokes up:

Why didn't Orange do well in sales? He's afraid of cold calls.

What is Orange's biggest fear? (apparently not cold calls) Being eaten. (surely they could have done better on that one)

But hey - they did it!! I was thrilled!

Let me share another ice cream experience with you. This one occurred in the middle of the Outback in Australia. Now let me tell you - there's a whole lotta nothing in the Outback. When you stop at one of the very few and very far between roadhouses, you're just glad to see some people and something that reminds you of civilization. All these roadhouses are is a cross between a dumpy roadside diner and a bar - they are not fancy. And there's no need or way for them to be - they are in the middle of the Outback!!

I was with a tour group and we stopped at one of these roadhouses. We ordered food and one of our group ordered ice cream. Now I have to tell you this woman and I were enemies from the beginning. She is one of those people who will do anything to get something free. To get extras. To be first. If there were free samples she'd cram as many as possible into her mouth, pockets and any other orifice available. If someone didn't come to dinner, she'd eat her food and ask if she could have theirs too. If there was a line, she'd break in front. The Aussies were a pretty polite bunch and tried to be decent to her, but she was an embarrassment to us. The term Ugly American fit her perfectly.

One of the group asked her how her ice cream was. (Now mind you, none of the food in this place was great - it was a roadhouse in the middle of a desert!) Her response, as she devoured her cone, was "Terrible!" She eats the entire cone. (It obviously wasn't that bad.) As we leave, she goes back to the counter and berates the poor Australian woman about the quality of the ice cream she provided IN THE DESERT! Do you know what she wanted? Oh no, not a refund - ANOTHER ICE CREAM CONE! Which she also ate all of. Too bad it didn't kill her.

Yesterday we had the Lesson of the Peanut, today we have the Lesson of Ice Cream. Be grateful. How lucky are we to have ice cream? See the fun and the charm in things - say "Wheeee!" once in a while. There are some places in the world where they will never have ice cream. We can go into the grocery store on any given day and pick from hundreds of flavors and shapes and brands. We are so lucky! And it's not just about ice cream...think about your health - be grateful for what you have there. If you're reading this, you can see. What a gift that is. If it's being read to you, you can hear - how lucky are you? And guess what - you're alive! Be grateful! Life is all too short. And if you are ever in the desert and are lucky enough to have ice cream, thank the people who gave it to you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

True Confessions

Isn't that redundant? Isn't a confession by its very meaning, true? Can I digress before I even begin this post? Ahem....the confession I want to make it that I have a deeper love than my love of chocolate. It is not as lofty a love, not loaded with history, not referred to as the "food of the gods," but for me it is a deep and abiding passion. My heart belongs to peanut butter.

I actually cannot have large jars of peanut butter in my home because I will consume them in their entirety in no time at all. Hunger has nothing to do with it. The siren song of the peanut calls to me incessantly and I am unable to resist. If I were to allow peanut butter in my kitchen, in no time I would have to be rolled from my home like the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka.

Today I have come to realize I am not alone in this love - Ghirardelli has released a peanut butter filled square! Now it's no Reese's' Egg, mind you, but it's not bad. It even has tiny chunks of peanut in it! There's a peanut butter Lindor Truffle. Peanut butter is moving on up! (When Godiva releases the Peanut Collection it will have arrived!) (Important note here - the Circus Peanut has NOTHING to do with peanut butter and has been trying to ride the peanut train for years. It is shaped like a peanut in a desperate act of imitation, but do not be fooled! Impostor - bah!)

Here's the Lesson of the Peanut - we're all more alike than we're different. Not always, but most of us like the same things. And most of us want the same things - acceptance, love, safety, freedom, kindness. We just get scared - scared to reveal who we really are and what we really like (we pretend we just want a salad when we really want french fries; we say yes when we really mean no). We hide ourselves in a million tiny ways. It's scary to be vulnerable - to ask for help or love or kindness. So we pretend we don't need those things; we are okay without them; we're strong, independent. It takes the greatest courage to reveal yourself - your true self - to the world. But if you can be brave enough to do it, the right people will see you and love you for who you really are. If they love only the false you, they don't really love YOU at all. And that results in the loneliness and lack of connection so many of us feel.

So grab that jar of Jif in one hand, a spoon in the other and be yourself! Eat what you like, wear what you like, laugh at what you think is funny, celebrate who YOU are. Be brave, my little legume. There are a lot more peanuts out there than you think.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Logic, Yard Art and Chocolate

Humans are a crazy lot. We do some things that are amazing - the Internet, the Sistine Chapel, space travel. And we do some things that really make no sense - yard art, chocolate flavored Pez, Britney Spears. We've already discussed chocolate Pez. I have nothing to add to the Britney Spears horror. I want to talk about yard art.


Yard art really makes no sense. No one NEEDS yard art. It costs money. You have to mow around it. It's not an investment - it doesn't get better with age, it fades badly. Note this lovely cactus:






Is that blue? Would it not make more sense to grow a real cactus? And note the gazing ball in the background. It is said that gazing balls are supposed to bring prosperity to the owner. Hmmmm....most of the houses I see with gazing balls don't seem too prosperous.....maybe they should stop spending all that money on gazing balls.



Yard art also seems to be something that becomes addictive - once you get once piece of yard art, you seem to feel compelled to add to the collection:






This yard has three gazing balls, two fiberglass (?) deer, two fiberglass Boxers, a fiberglass Rottweiler, a giant cardinal in one of the birdbaths, an angel, and two small children sitting on a tiny swing on the porch. And some strawberries. Giant strawberries.

Yard art is like chocolate. No one really needs it. There's no logic in consuming it. Okay, you can try that whole antioxidant thing, but there's not a Doctor on the planet who would tell you to eat a lot of chocolate. It's not an investment; it doesn't get better with time. And it does seem that when you have some chocolate, you want more.

I don't have any yard art, but I love it - it makes me smile. I think of the lady positioning those Boxers just so under those strawberries and stepping back to admire her work. M & Ms make me smile too. They come in all those different colors, but they're not flavored differently. They could all just be brown. But how fun are those colors? Completely illogical - much harder and more expensive to make than just making brown M & Ms, but WAY more fun.

Want a great life? Embrace it all! See the Sistine Chapel AND catch your reflection in a gazing ball. Sip the finest red wine AND toss a few M & Ms in your mouth. Life is short and amazing and illogical and we should grab as much of it as we can. I need to get some of those strawberries.....

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday the 13th & Tootsie Rolls

I usually don't even notice when it's Friday the 13th. My birthday is on the 13th (May 13th) and it sometimes falls on a Friday and I think it's cool. But this Friday the 13th tried to kill me. Or perhaps tried to get me to kill myself and take a few others with me.

It started last night when Delta lost my luggage. Again. (And things had been going so well. We did sit on the tarmac for an hour, but the stewardess let me have THREE snacks!) I probably looked a bit crazed - there had been no time between flights to get anything to eat and I was chomping the breath mints in my purse and considering asking if anyone on board had spare food.

I had been at the luggage carousel for a long time when they announced, "Will the following passengers please come to the baggage claim office.." I just knew I was going to be one of them. Sure enough - the third name was Ryan. Damn it! If I could figure out how to get a business suit to fit in a tiny carry on and all my toiletries to fit in a gallon plastic zip lock, I'd never check a bag again! I was tired, hungry and aggravated. That is not a pretty combination for me and woe to the customer service person who crosses my path.

But this guy was nice. He smiled! He said he was really sorry. He wasn't bitter. So it was okay. No killing. Yet.

I got home sans luggage and checked my e-mail. I am seeing an awesome man who is serving overseas and had ordered him a box of goodies which included (for a fee) a personalized card. I had spent some time uploading a cool pic and coming up with a good message for this card. I remembered he should have gotten this by now, so I go to check on the status of the order. It shipped a while ago, but the card was printed wrong - somehow it had used someone else's card with another woman's picture and she was making a peace sign! I was furious! Can you imagine? You get a box, with a card made out to someone else, from someone you don't know who is flashing a peace sign while you're fighting a war! I want the pic of ME in there, not one of some other woman!! (Remember I'm even more tired and hungry now and when I call the company - the recording informs me of their customer service hours, i.e. NOT now.) I weep with frustration. I want to kill the woman making the peace sign.

Then the real Friday the 13th arrives. I can't brush my teeth because my toothbrush is IN MY LUGGAGE. I take out my contacts and can't see a damn thing because my glasses are IN MY LUGGAGE. I am teetering on the edge of a pity party, feeling totally sorry for myself. I realize I need to get my exhausted, blind, pissed off self into bed. I sleep like crap.

The nice man at Delta told me to call if my luggage hadn't arrived by 11:00 am. It hadn't. I call and get the computer "person." It repeats my claim number, and says "right?" I say, "Right." It says, "I'm sorry, I did not understand you." I scream, "Right!" It can't understand me. I try screaming yes. "Yes! Yes!" It can't understand me. I am sooooooo angry all over again. I hate Delta. I want to kill someone, anyone. Preferably the person who invented those computer "people." Bastard. Then I get a human from India. Things go straight to hell. He tells me to call back after 2:00 pm. I can't even go to the damn airport and get my own luggage. I hate India.

While dealing with India man, I am returning some books I ordered from Amazon.com. Six books from four different orders all made in the last couple of weeks. I want to return them in one box. I can't figure out how to do this on their web site. It seems I have to print a different mailing label for each of the four orders. The web site is crazy slow for some reason and between this and India man, I am losing my mind. I give up on the web site and after I get off the phone with India, I call Amazon.

Kill me. I can't do it. I have to send the six books back in four different boxes. I talk to the customer service rep as if she were a small child. I tell her it's insane - they are going to charge me a fortune in return shipping. She is nice (she also has a weird accent - I have no idea what country she's in), but I have no choice. Even though she's nice, I want to kill her.

At 2:00 pm, I call about the luggage. It is here and with the delivery company. They have until 10:00 pm to deliver it. They cannot give me a time - it will be there sometime between now (2:00 pm) and 10:00 pm. I think my eye balls are bleeding.

At 4:00 pm, I get a call from the guy who's going to be delivering my luggage to verify my address. (I'd already done this at the airport and with India man, but why stop now?) I verify it again - I am the Queen of Sarcasm and I talk to him also as if he were a small child. I have accepted that I am going to hell for this. Without luggage. He complains about how busy he is. One of my eyeballs pops out. I want to kill him. He brings my luggage at 6:30 pm.

I am eating Tootsie Rolls right now. They are in little American flag wrappers for the 4th of July. I love the Tootsie Roll. And I realize that a world where I can spend an evening eating Tootsie Rolls is a damn fine world. And I don't want to kill anyone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Great Expectations

I recently worked registration at a conference and witnessed the most amazing occurrence. We would check people in and then tell them to go to the table next to us to get their welcome gift. The welcome gift was in a silver foil wrapped box about five inches wide, an inch deep and ten inches long. It had an elegant black ribbon. Its size, shape, and color made it look just like a box of chocolates. I instantly thought it was chocolate, was thrilled and immediately disappointed when I shook it and it made no noise. It was also too light. My heart fell. I had no idea what actually was in the box, but I knew it wasn't chocolate and I was crushed.


Let's think about this - it could have been anything - money, tickets to a great show, a gorgeous leather portfolio, a lovely silk scarf - ANYTHING! But as soon as I knew it wasn't chocolate, I was disappointed.


Well, I thought, I'm a freak (Wally - are you reading?) - my world is seen through chocolate smeared glasses. My life is lived with questions like, "Will there be dessert?", "Are there cookies?", "If you don't want your dessert, can I have it?" All things are filtered through the potential they have to include chocolate.

But I have learned that I am not alone! Almost everyone when told of their welcome gift turned and saw the display of silver boxes and immediately their faces lit up and they exclaimed, "Is it chocolate?" The hope, the glee! When they were told no - they had the same reaction I did! Disappointment. Their faces fell, the light went out of their eyes. Now we had NO IDEA what fabulous thing the boxes might hold, but once we heard chocolate was out of the question, we were crushed, our hopes dashed.

Across gender, race, age - chocolate is adored! And the potential inside a wrapped box of chocolates brings excitement to everyone. Will there be nuts? Caramel? Dark or milk? What treats are within?

But here's the life lesson - if we had approached the box without expectation - just with the sheer joy that it was a gift, we would have kept our joy and not been disappointed. Expectation can kill joy. It is very hard to go through life without expectation (probably downright impossible) but the more often you can do it - the happier you will be. Don't expect people to know what you need from them - tell them. And then try not to expect them to respond. If they do, be grateful. Try not to expect that the cable man will be on time or that your computer will never crash. Lower your expectations and you'll be happier! And really try not to expect so much from yourself - ease up! Even you can't be perfect all the time.

We expected the food of the gods to be in those boxes and when it wasn't we were disappointed. We should have been dancing a jig that there was a gift at all! (It was a really nice leather portfolio, by the way). Walk in hope (that chocolate could be possible at any moment) but be open to all possibilities and grateful for whatever happens. As long as you're still breathing, there's always the potential for chocolate tomorrow!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

We all wish we had a place to go like the bar in Cheers - someplace where people know us by name and we feel welcome. But our lives are so fast-paced these days, we don't have time to hang out - to find our true peeps. Thus the beauty of the web! In a matter of minutes, you can find people who have a lot in common with you - you might even find true love! (Papa G are you reading?) Think about it - you can go hang out at a bar, and hope that someone who is age appropriate, attractive, available, interesting, and has something in common with you shows up or you can go to match.com! The web has changed everything.



For those of us who love life, adventure and chocolate, there's the Chocolate Lovers Travel Club (http://www.chocolateloverstravelclub.com/). I have yet to travel with these folks, but I can't wait to do so. Holly Stabin has been my point of contact and she's great! E-mailing her is like going into Cheers - you feel like a regular right away. Clay Gordon, the chocolate brain of the Club, wrote a terrific book: Discover Chocolate, The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting and Enjoying Fine Chocolate. (There's a link to this in the upper right corner of the blog.) I haven't met Clay yet, but I like his philosophy - "the best chocolate in the world is the one you like best." Clay doesn't say "the best chocolate in the world is the one I tell you is the best," he just wants to teach you to taste chocolate for yourself. This is a philosophy I can embrace. It makes me want Clay to become my chocolate teacher and call me "Grasshopper." Some of these "gourmands" need to get over themselves. (See my last post Let My Chocolates Go. I got your back, milk chocolate!)

The way we find our "soul mates" is rapidly changing. If chocolate and travel speak to you, check out the CLTC. Finding the right people for you - the ones you really click with - can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. You can keep randomly looking or you can use a magnet.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Let My Chocolates Go

Since dark chocolate has become the new red wine - lauded for its amazing health benefits - everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. M & M 's are doing dark chocolate; companies who weren't even in the chocolate business are now making weird dark chocolate vitamin/health/food bars; Twix, Kit Kat - everybody is going to the dark side!! Tootsie Roll, are you next?

And poor white chocolate! White chocolate is treated like trailer trash! Next they'll take away caramel and peanut butter (so gauche!) and only have ginger and chilies in chocolate. Oh - and green tea. (And I'm not talking about to drink. We know all about sweet tea in the trailer park and this ain't nuthin' like that.)

Now look, I like dark chocolate. I'm not anti-70% cacao. But I am a freedom fighter - I want a place at the chocolate table for everyone! I'm pro-choice! Sometimes I want a good milk chocolate. Sometimes I want a dark so bitter it makes my mouth pucker. And sometimes, yes sometimes, I long for a ZERO bar!! And chilies, well that's a fad. And lavender? Good god! I want to try it all, but the peanut is a minor god in my country. And I'm not ashamed to publicly adore the Reese's Cup! (the original version, not the dark one or the caramel one or any of the other mutations. Although the giant one and the Reese's egg....but I digress.) You are not somehow a superior being if you prefer dark chocolate. And you are not inferior if you like white chocolate. And if you don't like chocolate at all, that's great too! (I won't have to split any of my desserts with you.)

Try them all and choose the one you like. Don't kid yourself that trading in your milk chocolate for dark chocolate is going to give you another 10 years or cure cancer. Don't let people make you feel bad about anything you eat. (Chances are if they say anything, it's only because they really want to be eating it, they just aren't brave enough to!) Pick the one that brings you the most joy at that moment! Eat healthy most of the time, take your vitamins, but set chocolate free! Don't make it a vitamin! The M in M & Ms is NOT for Magnesium! Let my chocolates go!Let there be room for all the varieties (and all the fun!) in your life. (Who's in for trying the new M & M ice cream? Yay!!!)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Passion, Chocolate and Your Life

Today I read the story of how Scharffen Berger Chocolate got started. Like so many of the chocolate companies, it's a story about passion - two men who became enthralled with making incredible chocolate. Having something you are passionate about is a key factor to staying motivated, excited about life.

If you have a passion - fantastic!! Make sure you allow time to engage in it. Make its pursuit as much of a priority as you can.

I'm more concerned about people who say they have no passion and have no idea how to discover their passion. I'm telling you - you have to plug into this source of energy and engagement. Life is too short not to. Here are some questions/ideas that might help:

Was there something you really loved as a child? If you don't remember - ask your family. You may not embrace it in the same form you did as a child, but there may be an idea there.

Is there something you are intrigued by? It could be anything - ballroom dancing, true crime, art, chocolate! What would you like to learn more about? Look into it, do a web search. If it draws you in, if you lose track of time - that could be it! The world is such an exciting place - there must be something you'd like to know more about!

Is there something you really like to talk about? I've always loved to ask people about their most loved and most hated candies. I love it! It cracks me up!

Don't censor yourself. This is where people blow it - they start saying, well, I can't do that or that's stupid. Don't take any idea off the table. If you're excited by it, give it a chance to develop!! See what happens!

It's okay to let go of an old passion that doesn't light your fire anymore. You change over time, so should your interests.

Try something new. There are so many places you could go that you've never been. So many groups you could join (check out meetup.com and take a look) and free classes and seminars you could attend. Don't let fear keep you from discovering your passion. Don't stay stuck in your rut.

If your life is boring and passionless, it is your own damn fault! Life is waiting to show you how fabulous it is and how much more you can become.

It took a lot of passion to turn the bitter cacao seed into the amazing "food of the gods" - chocolate. Who knows what wonders could be created through your passion? Find it!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Forrest Gump - Genius or Idiot?

Yeah, yeah - "Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get." Whatever Forrest. Whitman's tells you exactly what you're going to get. In fact, a lot of times we do know exactly what we're going to get, we just don't want to take responsibility for it. Gasp - I didn't know I was going to go broke! Gasp - I didn't know I was going to get so fat! Gasp - I didn't know he was going to hit me again! Gasp - I didn't know! I didn't know! Yeah, deep inside, you did. You knew that you should save, but you chose not to. You knew that if you kept eating so much and not exercising you would get fat. You knew the abuser would hit you again. Not always, but more than we want to admit, we know exactly what we're gonna get.

And the worst thing that happens with a box of chocolates? You bite into one you don't like. Life can deal you a much harder blow than that! Many of us WISH life was like a box of chocolates.

Forrest Gump is an idiot.

Not so fast.

Think about how most of us approach a box of chocolates. We're excited - we can't wait to dive in and try some. We open it with a sense of wonder - thinking of all the possibilities it might contain. Caramels, nuts, chocolate covered cherries, truffles - what delights will we find within? Few of us are thinking, "Oh crap - what hellish thing might I bite into?" We're not thinking about closing it up and staying in bed - we're going in!

If we could approach life like a box of chocolates - thinking of everyday as a new box - filled with possibilites - 24 hours in which something wonderful could happen - how much happier would we be? After all, the past really is over - what's done is done - we can only move forward from where we are. And each day really is a new chance to be and have whatever we want.

Forrest Gump is a genius!

Um...maybe not.

The decisions we made yesterday do impact us today. We can learn from them, take responsibility and make better choices. (We can avoid the orange cream or we can stop eating BEFORE we want to puke.) At the same time we can recapture our sense of hope and wonder - and realize that each day can be better for us. Something wonderful can happen.

Forrest Gump is Forrest Gump and life is life - each person's will be different and unlike any other. But many times you do know exactly what you're gonna get. (Just make sure some of it is chocolate.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Authenticity and Pez

True authenticity is hard to come by. We all want it - we want to be true to ourselves, we want others to be who they really are - we despise fakery. Yet true authenticity requires time and bravery. Time to really discover who you are - how can you know how you really feel about an issue if you don't take time to study it and think about it? How can you know what chocolate you like best if you haven't taken the time to try several? How can you know what religion best suits you if you've only gone to one church? How can you know yourself if you never spend any time alone?

The hardest voice to hear in this life is your own. You have to struggle to hear it over the din of the media, your parents, the government, advertisers and everyone who has an opinion on who you are and what you should be. And bravery - how brave are you, really? True authenticity means you form your own ideas and opinions and have the courage to voice them. You might do something crazy like leave a movie you think is idiotic or laugh so loud heads turn. You don't say yes when you mean no. We all think we're authentic, but if we're honest, most of us fall far short of the mark. We hide ourselves in the hope that others will like us or approve of us.

But you can't hide your essential nature.

Let's take Pez for example. They makers of Pez are coming out with chocolate flavored Pez. While I find this idea horrifying, I still want to try one. (I feel compelled to try any new candy involving chocolate or peanut butter even in such a remote and disturbing way. And anything sweet they fry at the State Fair. But that's another post.) I have tried chocolate Skittles and chocolate Twizzlers and my cry is for authenticity!! Skittles and Twizzlers are not meant to be chocolate - they need to stay true to themselves and not try to be chocolate. They honestly suck at being chocolate. I feel chocolate Pez will also be a sad attempt on the part of a perfectly good candy to be something it is not. Why be a crappy, chalky pseudo-chocolate when you can be a perfectly good weird fruit flavor? They can make giant Pez, they can make mini Pez, they could even try chocolate covered Pez, but a chocolate flavored Pez is well, gross. And perhaps a bit creepy.

Isn't Pez really all about the dispenser?

If the Circus Peanut is made in a chocolate version it is a sure sign of the Apocalypse.

Stay true to your essential nature. We can't all be chocolate (the world needs its fruits and nuts as well).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Marcus Aurelius and the Ice Cream Truck

I never have cash on me when I need it.

I was walking yesterday and heard that siren song of childhood - an ice cream truck! It's been years since I heard that sound - and even longer since I actually made a purchase. I never wished so much that I had cash on me. I alway liked the treats with chocolate or caramel - those Drumsticks (what the hell kind of name is THAT?) - cones with choc0late and nuts. I can to this day eat an entire box of ice cream sandwiches. My brother always chose that sherberty thing with the gum at the bottom or the red, white and blue rockship popsicle. Do they even still have those?

Since I had no money and couldn't buy anything, I did the adult thing and thought about what was so damn captivating about the ice cream truck.

I think it starts with the thrill of the unexpected. You never knew when the ice cream truck was coming - it just seemed to show up. You would hear that happy, tinkling little tune and run pell mell to get some change. It was a random act of joy and celebration of summer.

Then it was deciding - what would you get? What did you feel like? What would be best? You only bought ONE ice cream treat - you had to choose and choose wisely. It was definitely part of the fun. Also - you only got ONE - you were forced into moderation. That treat tasted so good because you couldn't eat too much. You savored it.

And you were totally in the moment as soon as you heard the music. Marcus Aurelius said "Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see." When the ice cream truck came, you were completely in the moment, completely alive. You weren't thinking about how many days until school started or if that cute boy liked you - the ice cream truck was here!

The lesson? Let yourself have more ice cream truck moments. Engage your senses - hear the music, taste the flavors, run for the sheer joy of running, laugh because it's summer and you're alive. Oh - and always carry cash.

Monday, June 2, 2008

YUM!!

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Motivation by Chocolate

The Chocolate Spa at Hershey PA—I spent my last vacation there and I still have chocolate on the brain! Since I am eternally curious I had to learn more about chocolate and Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars. How little I knew about a treat I love so much! As with everything, chocolate has lessons for us:

1.) Nothing worth having is ever easy. I had no idea how hard it was to figure out how to make chocolate and once figured out, how difficult to turn it into the amazing treat we now love! The beans only grow in a certain part of the world, and the trees are very fragile and hard to cultivate. Once you manage to grow cocoa trees, the beans are harvested, roasted and shelled, then ground to form cocoa liquor. The liquor is pressed to squeeze out the cocoa butter. Later the cocoa butter gets put back in (if it’s good chocolate). A few other things are added, then the mixture is conched (or mixed with a conching machine) for up to 3 days at temperatures between 140 and 167 degrees! Then it has to be tempered (or cooled) just right—and then molded. Mess up at any step and the whole batch is ruined. Holy cow! Who knew?

2.) Persistence is a key to success. Milton Hershey failed in his first two candy making ventures. He blew it, lost everything—twice! If he quit then, we’d never have had a Hershey Bar or a Hershey’s Kiss!!

3.) Have a passion—something in your life or your work you are excited about. Milton Hershey became passionate about helping young boys whose parents could no longer care for them. Profits from the chocolate business helped these boys have a better life. His school still operates today. Forrest Mars wanted to build an empire—he was passionate about selling his products all over the world. The number one selling chocolate bar worldwide today? The Mars Bar. Passion keeps us engaged and passion fuels all great accomplishments. What are you passionate about? If the answer is nothing, you need to get connected to something. Otherwise you’ll miss out on being everything you can be and enjoying your journey there.

4.) Stop eating and start tasting. I love chocolate (actually I love most food), and I’ve been eating it since I was a kid. But I never really tasted it. I went to my first chocolate tasting at Hershey (which is much like a wine tasting) where I was told to use all my senses; even listening to chocolate as we snapped tasting squares. The darker the chocolate, the more distinctive the snap. Milk chocolate is too soft to really snap. I learned that a cocoa tree grown by an orange tree can actually absorb some of the citrus flavor which may be tasted in the resulting chocolate. Chocolate from different regions has different flavors. Who knew?
But here’s the bigger lesson—we go through life eating and not tasting. We’re in such a hurry to get to the next step—the next big deal, the end of the day, the wedding—whatever it is, that we miss all the nuance, all the rich detail of the current moment. Spring is a great season to really taste—notice the flowers, the birdsong, this gorgeous world we take for granted. Eat a piece of fresh fruit and savor the juice, the color, the texture. There is more to everything than meets the eye—and we are usually in too much of a rush to notice.

5.) Go deeper. I am always amazed by people who don’t read, who visit the same places, who pretty much have quit learning anything new about themselves or about the world. To me this is like going through life with your eyes closed. The minute you learn something new, your world expands. And it’s exciting! Now when I eat chocolate, I think of Milton Hershey and his struggles in making it, or I eat an M & M and remember how hard it was to get Americans to buy them at first. I try to really savor what I eat and understand what “mouth feel” means when a Lindt truffle melts in my mouth. Pick anything that interests you and go deeper—learn about it. If it’s a person, ask them about their childhood or what their dreams are—there is so much more to the world and everything in it! Don’t let the demands on your time keep you in the shallows of life.

6.) Have fun! I can’t help but associate chocolate with fun. I didn’t see any sad faces at the World of Chocolate in Hershey. Adults and children alike were having a blast - it was like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory without the creepiness factor. Somehow we have come to think of chocolate as bad (except limited quantities of dark chocolate for the health benefits), and we’re just too busy to have fun. Who can waste time at a chocolate tasting where there is e-mail to check? Right, who can waste time living where there is work to do? Trust me—there will always be work, but real fun is getting harder and harder for us to find. Or maybe allow ourselves to find. Sitting in the theater in the World of Chocolate as bubbles came down from the ceiling and 3D Reese’s Pieces flew off the screen—I was laughing with delight. When was the last time you laughed with sheer delight? If you can’t remember, it’s been way too long.

7.) Don’t take things for granted. Did you know that the regions in which the cocoa trees grow has been experiencing drought and over harvesting? That some types of cocoa beans are almost extinct? Can you imagine a world without chocolate? Now, clearly that is far too horrifying to contemplate for long. And Milton Hershey would be aghast—his vision was to make chocolate affordable, not just something for the very rich—and that was what he did with his original Hershey Bar. We take many things for granted—our loved ones, our health, chocolate. Nothing is forever—savor it now. Seize the day—eat chocolate!