The Hunt for Decent Chocolate

My first stop in the Hunt for Decent Chocolate was Rocket Fizz, the candy store in the Glen Town Center. Its niche is specialty candy and sodas.  I walked in the door and was greeted immediately. I replied with, “American chocolate is crap!”

“Yes it is,” a young man replied. “Follow me.”

On a table toward the back of the store, he showed me a collection of international brands. This included a Hershey bar that was made in Canada. Since I understood British Cadbury and American Cadbury to be different, I presumed the same was true of American Hershey and Canadian Hershey. I decided to try that, and something called “Magic Stars”. Then the young man pointed me to the corner with some higher end American chocolate, saying, “It really isn’t all crap.” So I grabbed one of those, too.

On the way to my book club that weekend, I bought a plain old Hershey bar and decided that we would all taste test it.   We all agreed that the Canadian version was more chocolaty and less waxy than the Pennsylvania-made bar. At the same time, it was still milk chocolate, and I think I have finally outgrown milk chocolate.

A week or so later, I tried the Magic Stars. I liked that they came in a bag with small pieces. I might actually decide to eat less than an entire bag. And they were very tasty. But again, milk chocolate. Time to hit the dark stuff.


I was flying to I-forget-where one morning and I wandered by the Vosges store at O’Hare.   Fancy-fancy stuff. But they did have bars of chocolate, including a dark chocolate with Hawaiian sea salt and caramel. Sold. For seven dollars.

Very tasty. It has just the right amount of salt and the chocolate was very smooth. The caramel was very tasty, but it was the liquid kind, as opposed to the chewy kind.   There might be some gourmet reason why this kind of caramel is better, but I was travelling and trying to break off a square or two was..messy. And anyway, at seven dollars a bar it was more than I really wanted to pay. The search continued.

The Hand Soap Thing

For many years, we have been shameless consumers of Bath & Body Works Foaming Hand Soap.  It is so easy!  It smells so pretty!  You can always get a double discount!

Then last week, out of complete nowhere, all three of the sinks in my house were on their last bottles and there was no phone app discount to be found.  I started muttering to myself about how much plastic we waste buying that stuff and anti-bacterial blahblahblah is supposed to be bad for you anyway and I don’t really have to have the instant foaming soap…

I wonder if I can just make my own?

Last winter, I had a similar mini-tantrum about the mass consumption of body butter in my house.   I found a recipe and made my own.  In the end, I decided:

  1. It was not a small project.
  2. Shea butter isn’t exactly cheap in retail quantities, hence
  3. The dollars saved were not worth the trouble.

(And then I discovered massage bars at Lush, but that’s another story.)

I kinda figured that I would land in a similar spot with the hand soap, but I looked online and found a ridiculously simple formula without even trying.  Then I took a look in that section of Whole Foods.  A great big bottle of Castile soap was.. $12 or $13.  I still had that bottle of essential oil from last winter and I liked it a lot, but while I was on this kick I bought a bottle of peppermint.  Incidentally, Castile soap has its own scents, but since I was buying the big bottle I went with Unscented.

But what about the container?  Whole Foods only had one tiny bottle with a soap dispenser.  I figured I could just reuse an old one in my house.  So the total cost of this experiment was in the neighborhood of $20.

I rinsed out the old dispenser and put in a bit of the Castile soap.  Then I shook in some essential oil and filled the bottle almost to the top with water.  It didn’t take much to mix the liquids.  The post said the soap would be much thinner than we are used to, which was true.  Then I wondered..could I just use this formula in a foaming dispenser?

Why yes, I can!

Hand Soap2


The foam isn’t quite as..fluffy as the commercial brands I’ve tried, and I use a bit more each time I wash my hands.  Three pumps instead of one or two.  Still waaaaaaayy less expensive than buying bottles of the stuff.  I made four bottles of this mixture and barely put a dent into the big container of Castile Soap.

Hand Soap

Further online “research” suggested a few things:

  1. Distilled water instead of tap.  One site said that distilled should be used if you don’t think you will use up an entire bottle within a couple of weeks.  Distilled water isn’t all that expensive and of course, one can always boil water.  I’m thinking I might use distilled if I were gifting it, but my filtered tap will do for my house.
  2. The mixture settles and separates a bit.  I just turn the bottle upside down every once in awhile.
  3. I feel squeaky clean after washing my hands..and dry.  Some posts suggest putting olive/almond/choose your own oil in there.  One even suggested that would be better for the dispenser in the longer term.  I haven’t tried that yet.

Overall, I am very pleased.  My mother was thinking “stocking stuffers” and went to Amazon and found some foaming dispensers.  For gifting, I think that’s the way to go.  But I will be re-using for as long as I can.

Now I am wondering if I can do my own hand cream…

The Great Chocolate Debacle of 2015

It started with an article in Vanity Fair magazine entitled The Bitter, Not-Sweet Cadbury-Chocolate War.  From the May, 2015 issue which I read…probably mid-July.  The summary reads, “British-expat enclaves across America are furious over a recent move to halt the import of U.K.-manufactured Cadbury chocolate, the nostalgic English childhood treat. The villain? Hershey, which licenses the Cadbury name for chocolate made in the U.S.”

In the article, a British-expat running a small tearoom/British grocery in New York is interviewed.  She says, in short, that American chocolate is crap and Hershey’s in particular is like biting into a bar of wax.

A few weeks later, I was craving chocolate at work, so I picked up one of those little Special Dark bars from a lady who keeps a permanent stash at her desk.

It was like biting into a bar of wax.

A week or so later, I was having lunch with a couple of colleagues in a strip mall that also contained a Fannie May candy store.  Lisa hadn’t had…something in awhile, so we went in and she got me an almond cluster.

It tasted waxy.

I walked over to Lisa’s desk, wondering if I was just so terribly vulnerable to the power of suggestion.  Lisa said that her chocolate also tasted wrong and are they going cheap since they re-organized a few years ago?  And it all went downhill from there.  She said that even the baking chocolate she has used for years (famous brownies) tastes wrong.  We speculated about the coming global shortage of cocoa beans.

We have vowed to find the solution.

Volunteer Gig: Feed My Starving Children

It’s called Feed My Starving Children, which is a bit of a turnoff for me (Note:  Not sure if it is the word “my” or the word “starving”.  Wouldn’t “Feed the Children” have been enough?). But my co-workers like it a lot so when there a group volunteer session was scheduled at the office this week, I signed up.

FMSC organizes volunteers to package meals – specially formulated for maximum nutrition – to partners around the world who distribute them to children who are literally starving. There is a location right near my office and volunteers are organized every day in two hour shifts. Food is scooped into the bags, weighed, sealed, boxed and labeled for shipment. The meals we packaged were rice-based with soy protein and added vegetables and vitamins. It looked like your average pre-packed rice dishes from the grocery store.

It starts with a video of what we were going to do and why. The instructions are simple and clear and there are cheat sheets at the tables. Then we were sent to wash hands before starting.

Everyone sort of gets into a rhythm and it is funny because someone will eventually need to change jobs. For example, my hands cramped with the cups that scoop the soy and rice. Then everyone switches places and the rhythm is all messed up. But there were lots of laughs and music playing and the staff is really efficient, which is great.

We had a group of kids on the shift with us. Many of them had been there before and were excited to contribute, which is always nice to see. When Time is called, there are specific instructions for cleanup, which goes very quickly. Then there is a closing video and optional prayer circle. I don’t go for prayer circles so I went browsing in their gift shop, which is filled with handmade free trade items from the countries FMSC serves.

Best part:FMSC Impacr 7 2015

The session’s impact report.  I’d do it again.

Speaking of Pride Day

I had dinner with my grandfather, GP, last night.  This was particularly awesome because I don’t see him very often these days and certainly not without the distraction of children and dogs.  Besides the fact that he’s a great guy, he helps me to check my politics (he was ahead of my family curve of swinging to the left) and reminds me that there are plenty of Christians out there that are standing among those I would call The Good Guys.

We’d planned for an early dinner with his lady friend, J, and I arrived at his place around 4pm.  We sat down and started talking books, because I had spent the day trolling every bookstore from Andersonville to Lincoln Park, and he told me that his church had a book club.  The most recent title was the memoir of a transgender lady.   He stumbled a bit over the word “transgender”, as though he wasn’t entirely certain that was the correct and/or polite adjective.  I didn’t really notice that at the time, since my head had exploded, but I managed to ask the title of the book.  He didn’t have it quite right, but I am pretty sure it was Crossing: A Memoir, by Dierdre McCoskey.  She is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Me:     So, did you read it?

GP:     No, but J did.  She can tell you about it.  I went to the discussion, though.

Me:     What did you think?

GP:     Mm.  I don’t like her politics.

Me:     What’s wrong with her politics?

GP:     Well.  She’s an economist and she was talking about minimum wage.  She said that it is better for the economy if Wal-Mart is allowed to pay its employees whatever it wants.  You know, I am a fiscal conservative and even I think that is wrong.

That was it.  That was all he had to say about her.  At dinner, I asked J about the book:

J:       Yes, I read it twice.

Me:    Why did you have to read it twice?

J:       It was a lot of information and I wanted to be sure I understood.  It’s very…detailed.  About the process a person goes through.

Me:    GP says he doesn’t like her politics.

J:       GP!  She said she’s a Libertarian!

GP:    I know!  That’s what I don’t like!

J went on to tell me that the book club meeting was packed full.. far more people than usual.  She expected that people were just curious.  I understood her to mean “curious” in a tabloid story kind of way, but I don’t even care.  This church – which is not just open to, but led by gay people – invited its parishioners to read and discuss the story of a local lady whose experience was completely foreign to them.  They invited the lady to meet with the parish and talk about it.

And my grandfather didn’t mention a man or a woman.  He only saw a Libertarian.  Happy Pride Day.

Rainbow White House

First Contact

Not long ago one of my people came in to my office to talk about her recruiting project.  She was starting to schedule interviews, but two of the five people she contacted hadn’t emailed her back.   Someone in her department suggested sending a follow up text.

I had an immediate, negative response.  After that, I wondered if I was being old school.

I am as flexible with the rules as any HR person can manage while still breathing, but in certain matters of etiquette I am complete snob.  For example, when I post a job on LinkedIn, I find a huge number of candidates will “Apply” without including a resumé or cover note.  “Why can’t you just go to the LinkedIn profile?”  I can.   For 14 seconds, which is more effort than the candidates put into the “application”.  And as a practical matter, that makes it really difficult to sort candidates for the hiring managers to review.  I understand this might be a losing battle.

So I asked myself why texting a candidate made me feel so icky.  I came up with the following:

  1. I refuse to write incomplete sentences to a stranger.  It is unprofessional.
  2. As the candidate would not recognize my cell phone number, I would have to open with my full name and my employer’s name before even getting to the point.  I realize a text isn’t limited to 140 characters, but seriously.
  3. It is theoretically possible that the candidate has a limit of some kind on receiving texts.  Thus texting a stranger is presumptuous.

I asked around my office, beginning with some of my youngest people.  I asked my people on Facebook.  And I started to feel more validated.  Then, I grew really bold and started asking job candidates the question during their interviews.  Hey – straight to the source, right?

My conclusion is this: we should be communicating with candidates in a way that is most comfortable for them.  If that turns out to be texting, then Fine.  But the only way to answer that question is by asking the candidate directly.  First Contact should not be done by Text.

Bernie’s Book Bank

I may have mentioned that my awesome employer allows for each of us to have two work days each year for volunteering events.  Last week we spent some time at Bernie’s Book Bank.  Their mission: “facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to significantly increase BOOK OWNERSHIP among at-risk infants,
toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.”

They receive donations of used books from individuals and groups as well as new books from publishers.  The volunteers sort, label, and package up books for the kids. My group did the packaging for second and third graders.  It was sort of like wrapping Christmas presents!  Except instead of wrapping paper, the books were in plastic bags.  The regular volunteers told us to mix up the traditional gender books because the kids get an opportunity to trade with their classmates.  (Or, I might add, second graders might be less hung up on the traditional gender thing.)  So it was pretty easy.

When our session was over, we were shown a video of a school delivery and we could see how excited the kids were.  And check out this Thank You note that was blown up and put on the wall:


Bernie’s has plenty of “drop in hours” so that people can show up and volunteer whenever they like without making a big commitment.  And they can certainly accommodate groups by appointment.  Even little kids can get in on the action, as one of the jobs is to put Bernie’s labels on each of the books.  So obviously, I am endorsing this place as worthy of time and donations.

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