TCHO Chocolate Rocks My World

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Photo courtesy tcho.com

Several years ago I found out about TCHO Chocolate, which is made in the Bay area. They started out with a factory on Pier 17 in San Francisco, but recently relocated to Berkeley. On my 40th birthday I  visited their factory store and fell in love with all the different dark chocolates they had available. Now they also offer milk chocolate – which is much better than anything you’d find in a grocery store – and a few specialty blends that would make Augustus Gloop cry, they are so good.

Over the weekend, I visited the TCHO kiosk in Westfield Mall in San Francisco. It was challenging to not BUY ALL THE CHOCOLATE THINGS, but I maintained some self control. I got a Mokaccino bar and a little sampler pack for myself, plus a few gifts for friends.

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Mokaccino bar from TCHO – it’s like a coffee chocolate party in your mouth.

If you’re a chocolate lover, you owe it to your taste buds to get some TCHO. Augustus would approve.

*TCHO did not pay me to write this post. I just really love their chocolate.

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Ainjel Emme

In 2002-2003, I became friendly with the members of a L.A. based all-girl rock band, Goddess Freak Ensemble. Like any band, the group went through some changes in guitarists and bassists. Through each change they continued to make beautiful music while showcasing their sexy, sassy selves. But when they briefly worked with Ainjel Emme, it was mind-blowing. Her mad skills on the guitar are evenly matched by her amazing voice, which is wistful and sly and sad and wise all at once.

A couple of months ago I started thinking about Ainjel again and decided to track her down on Facebook. Sure enough, she’s got her own page and frequently posts links to videos and songs. When I heard some of the stuff she’s been working on recently, I was once again blown away. Knowing how Giles feels about his lady singers (I call them his sirens), I had him take a listen. His face lit up at the first few notes.

I don’t want to even try comparing her music to anyone else, she’s that phenomenal, but I will say this: if you love great music, and you love hearing women sing and play guitar, give Ainjel a listen. Go buy her music. And then tell a friend.

To whet your appetite, here’s Ainjel doing a cover of The Smiths “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”. Check out other performances on her YouTube channel.

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Operation Paperback

Any other avid readers out there with a plethora of books just laying around, gathering dust? If you know you’re not going to read that James Patterson thriller again there’s not much point in keeping the book on your shelf. And while it’s easy to donate your books to the local library or Goodwill, have you considered sending your books to military folks who are desperate for something good to read?

Earlier this week I found out about Operation Paperback, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit organization devoted to getting reading material to U.S. troops deployed overseas. They accept monetary donations, of course, but the cool thing about them is that you can sign up to be a volunteer shipper and send your gently used books to the troops. These folks make it easy to get your books to the right people, too:

“Once you have registered with us, you can log in and request addresses of troops overseas using our automated system. Input the genres you have on hand (mysteries, Westerns, etc.) and our system will generate a customized list of names for your use. Label your books and insert our standard shipping letter (or your own personal note). Pack and address your box using the names we provide. Then head to the Post Office to mail your box. It’s that simple!”

I’m a voracious reader, but I’m not much of a book-buyer – I’m a library kid, which is a topic for another Saturday’s Shout-Out. That being said, I love the idea behind Operation Paperback: anything that supports reading as a hobby AND supports the troops sounds fabulous to me.

So if you’re avoiding tackling that overstuffed Ikea bookcase because you don’t know what to do with all those Sidney Sheldon and Clive Cussler novels, go check out Operation Paperback.

Of Synchronicity, Music, and The Power of Praise

I love when a plan comes together. I also love when circumstances bring forth a sweet surprise for several people. This happened to me a couple weeks ago.

On October 22, Barbara at Bad Tempered Zombie wrote a review of Emma Hill’s CD Clumsy Seduction for No Depression Magazine. It was featured prominently on the website for a few hours, which had Barbara all excited. Emma read the review and thanked Barbara, which pleased her to no end.

A few days after her review was posted, I head off to the Tomales Bay Workshops, a five-day writing conference in Marin County. It was a fantastic experience, meeting fellow word lovers and published authors, discussing our stories and books we love, getting inspired to write more and more and more. Truly magical and money well spent.

But I digress. On the third day at the I look at the conference program and see that on Saturday night the special musical guest is Emma Hill. The name rings a bell…wait, isn’t that the chick Barbara reviewed? I can’t get on the Internet to find out because my iPhone is struggling to pick up a steady signal. Dammit. I’m pretty certain it’s her, though.

I trudge through the woods to the Friday night reading. As I’m noshing on dessert post-reading, I overhear a woman talking to someone behind me. “Will you be performing solo tomorrow?” she’s asking.

Holy crap, I think, she must be talking to Emma! I turn around and say, “Excuse me, are you Emma Hill?”

“Yes,” she says. Wow, she is young, I think to myself.

“We have a connection in common,” I tell her, explaining how I know Barbara. Emma’s face lights up at the mention of Barbara’s name. “When I read her review, I cried,” she says. “She was so supportive and sweet, it meant so much to me.” I am thrilled to hear this, because even though I don’t know Barbara personally, I’ve been reading her blog for several years so I feel as if we are close friends. As we continue talking I discover Emma has been at the conference the WHOLE TIME. Crazy, right?

The next night I head down to the main hall to hear Emma perform. I get there late so I only get to hear one song, but it’s so freakin’ awesome it makes up for whatever I may have missed. “You’re My Man” is Emma’s tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of her favorite songwriters. She dedicates the song to Pam Houston, director of the conference and fellow Cohen fan.

After the performance ends I weave my way through the chairs to Emma. I tell her, “I know at least 15 bloggers who are going to LOVE that song,” and she laughs. The new CD will be out around February, she tells me. [Now that I’ve heard a few songs from her last two albums, I am betting this next one will be fan-freakin’-tastic.]

I snap a picture to send to Barbara, and to add to this lovely story about synchronicity, music, and the power of praise. So here she is, Miss Emma Hill. Go listen to her tunes, buy a CD. Then go to Barbara’s blog, read her music reviews, comment on a post or two. Send the link to your friends and keep on spreading the love.

The lovely and talented Emma Hill

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Continuous Chest Compression CPR

Earlier this week my aunt sent me a link to a video showing a new way of doing CPR that doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth contact. Developed by two cardiologists at the University of Arizona’s Sarver Heart Center, this continuous chest compression technique is quick to learn and you don’t need certification to perform this technique. Go watch the video and pass it along to a friend.

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Community Building and the DavisWiki

A couple of months ago I moved to Davis, a small college town in northern California. I didn’t know anyone here and while that didn’t freak me out too much, it was hard to leave behind all the people and places I loved down in Long Beach. Yelp is great for finding local reviews of places, but in smaller communities such as Davis, the reviews may be few.

Enter Davis Wiki, the world’s largest community wiki.* Started by two UC Davis students, the Davis Wiki is a compendium of information on all things Davis. Looking for free wifi? Check the wiki. Need information on the apartment complex where you’ll be living for a year? Go to the wiki. According to their figures, 1 in 6 Davis residents use DavisWiki, which, for a town of more than 60,000 people, is impressive. Even more impressive is that 1 in 7 Davisites contribute content to the wiki.

Personally, I’m amazed by the wealth of knowledge that’s available on the DavisWiki. I have used it to find businesses, community centers, gossipy items and general information about the town. In June the wiki got nationwide press for its coverage of the “Crying Girl” scam artist who has been conning locals for nearly a year. I think I spotted the girl recently, but I wouldn’t have known about her if it wasn’t for DavisWiki.

What’s really exciting is what the DavisWiki has started: a movement to encourage communities to set up their own wikis, allowing them to pool their knowledge into an online resource. Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov, founders of the DavisWiki, have started LocalWiki, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization. Their mission is to “create the specialized open-source software that makes the new media possible, establish and guide deployment in several “pilot” communities, and experiment with models for replicating and sustaining many more successful local wikis.” They recently received a grant of $350,000 to help them achieve this mission, which is pretty freakin’ awesome. But they still need $25,000 to get trainers and coordinators into the communities that need help setting up wikis of their very own.

It used to be you could go to the corner store or the barber shop to hear the latest neighborhood news. It was easy to ask the kindly lady across the street what veterinarian she preferred for her ten cats. Nowadays, it can be very hard to connect with others, especially when you’re new in town.

That’s why building community wikis is so important. Yes, Yelp is great – I’m a huge fan – but a wiki goes beyond what Yelp can do and does it all for free. There aren’t any ads or paid sponsors – just good ol’ fashioned helpful information. And all of that helpful information is written by the people who live there.

Pledge to LocalWiki if you can. Or just go find out about a wiki in your own neighborhood, and contribute something – maybe your opinion of the recreation center, a review of a new restaurant, or your insights on local politics. It’s a whole new way to give back to your community.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “wiki” is a website that allows multiple users to collaborate in creating the site. This collaboration covers everything from navigation to content, but in most instances the main focus is on adding and editing the site’s content. The name wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”.

Saturday’s Shout-Out: Beloved Bloggers

Often I read or hear about something so fabulous I have to call others’ attention to it. It might be a blog, product, company or charity – the point is to give them some recognition. Since there are so many things that fit this description, I figured why not do this on a semi-regular basis on the blog? Enter the Saturday’s Shout-Out feature.

The inaugural edition focuses on a blogger I truly adore and admire. I’ve known Kirsten since I had the distinct pleasure of spending an awesome summer vacation with her & her family right before my senior year of high school. She and her tow-headed brothers all seemed so much cooler than I could ever hope to be. From their clothes to their catchphrases to their tastes in music, I was completely starstruck. I felt very privileged to be able to say to my classmates that I’d vacationed with them.

Even though our families have been friends for three generations, I didn’t really know Kirsten that well. She started high school right when I was leaving. But when I found her on Facebook and started reading her blog, I got to know her much better. And I became starstruck all over again, because her writing is a thing of beauty. She writes so eloquently about everything and anything; whether she is discussing her kidsadventures or her own adventures in Trader Joe’s, or writing about grace, the state of being empty, and connection, Kirsten brings her A-game.

I was able to get face-time with her back in December, when I went home to be with Pops for the holidays. We chatted over coffee at the local Starbucks about writing, family, life changes, music, and other topics. I don’t remember all of it, to be honest. I was focused on enjoying her company, because she is just that cool.

That's me on the left, basking in the fabulousness of Kirsten.

So enough of my carrying on about Kirsten’s blog. Go read it for yourself. Subscribe to her feed. And feel free to become starstruck, just like me. You will be so glad you did.