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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The Year in Review – Sort Of

I have been a horrible blogger this year.  So horrible that when I sat down to write about my goals and whatever, I went back to read my post on reflections from 2013 and found that I hadn’t written one.

In a larger context, I rather think 2014 sucked in a “validating the title of my blog” way.  Yesterday, when news about the death of Mario Cuomo broke, someone linked to a clip of his address to the 1984 DNC.  And I thought, “Thirty years later and not a damn thing has changed in this country.”   Too many people still can’t make ends meet and even more feel hopeless, helpless, or otherwise disenfranchised.

For me personally, it has been a pretty good year.  I continue to be unreasonably lucky in my health, family, finances and opportunities.  I‘m afraid that I am becoming too comfortable.  It has been five years since I finished my Master’s Degree and I haven’t seriously considered any other major pursuits.  I continue to volunteer with the same places – doing good work – but hardly branching out.  I continue to work with the best employer ever, which has me placing my work above other priorities.  I’d planned to stop doing that.  I’ve said before that when one chooses to be child-free, the question of The Meaning of Life is not a no-brainer.  But we do know it is not to spend more time in meetings.

So maybe this year isn’t about how many books I am going to read or how many blankets I am going to make or how many volunteer hours I put in or how many visits to the gym.  Maybe it is about getting the hell outside my comfort zone and doing something different.

The Book List for 2014

I did an incredibly poor job of writing down my thoughts on books this year, but I can at least compile the list:

  1. The Song is You, by Megan Abbott
  2. Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris
  3. Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris
  4. Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  5. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  6. A Dangerous Friend, by Ward Just
  7. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  8. From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris
  9. The Valley of Fear, by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. Fury, by Salman Rushdie
  11. Dead and Gone, by Charlaine Harris
  12. Fallen Skies, by Philippa Gregory
  13. Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
  14. Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
  15. Dead Reckoning, by Charlaine Harris
  16. Black Coffee, by Agatha Christie
  17. The Girl at the Lion d’Or, by Sebastian Faulks
  18. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
  19. Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris
  20. Dead Ever After, by Charlaine Harris
  21. The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community is Changing the World, by Aaron Hurst
  22. After the Funeral, by Agatha Christie
  23. Dr. Kookie, You’re Right!, by Mike Royko
  24. Dracula the Undead, by Dacre Stoker
  25. Love Story, by Erich Segal
  26. A Star for Mrs. Blake, by April Smith
  27. The Winter Ghosts, by Kate Mosse
  28. Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen
  29. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, by Karen Abbott
  30. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  31. To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway
  32. Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  33. Light in August, by William Faulkner
  34. Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo
  35. Allegiance, by Timothy Zahn
  36. A Brief History of Robin Hood, by Nigel Cawthorne
  37. The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom
  38. Valour and Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  39. The Waterworks, by E.L. Doctorow
  40. Speaking from Among the Bones, by Alan Bradley
  41. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
  42. Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran, by Azadeh Moavveni
  43. Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie
  44. Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn
  45. Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland
  46. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley
  47. Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
  48. Razor’s Edge, by Martha Wells
  49. A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie
  50. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  51. Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth, by V.C. Andrews
  52. Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick
  53. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
  54. Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family, by Ekekiel Emanuel
  55. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
  56. Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, by Bill O’Reilly
  57. Holiday Grind, by Cleo Coyle
  58. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
  59. A Christmas Beginning, by Anne Perry
  60. Honor Among Thieves, by James Corey
  61. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford
  62. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
  63. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan