A life by chocolate entails finding sweetness in the light and dark. Moreso, it's about addiction to cocoa. An insatiable sweet tooth doesn't hurt. Well, not until the yucky tartar buildup and stuff. To the point, I strive to entertain with topics such as the utter hilarity and cuteness of children; the challenges of dating, my related rationale for celibacy; and chocolate as a precious remedy for it all. Thanks for sampling Life by Chocolate. I hope you keep coming back for more.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop: Living With Depression

Be it known that Alex J. Cavanaugh hyperlinked himself. Or perhaps a clone was involved.

Thank you, team, for this highly relevant Blogfest!
Here's what they wrote:
   The blogfest is meant to bring awareness of disease prevention and early detection regarding medical conditions that may be averted or treated if caught in the early stages. Our desire is to motivate people to go in for early screening, and if a condition is caught early and treated, then our world just became a little better place to live...What’s great about this Blogfest is you can inspire people to take care of themselves and their loved ones early enough to make a difference in their lives. 

Last year, I wrote this article for a local newspaper. I aimed to describe the monstrous force of severe depression. What I learned after publication, though, is that far too many already know this beast.

A few lesser-known facts about depression:
  • It's the world's most common disorder.  
  • It's both a mental health and a medical condition. The brain of a depressed person looks very different than a healthy person's brain. The good thing about this is that treatment most often helps.
  • It's generally chronic. Depression doesn't usually do a one-time "hit and run." It likes to stick around, often for months, years, or a lifetime. In my case, it's hibernating below the surface, likely to make a grand entrance unless I keep it tamed - and even then.
  • Stigma is so great that Robin Williams kept denying his depression and/or bipolar disorder, while incorporating his substance abuse into his comedy routines. Think about that! He chose to be labeled "a druggie" --with all the wretched stereotypes connected to drug addicts-- but refused to acknowledge his genetic mood disorders.
Some things that help me survive and thrive:
  • Writing. I started writing to provide myself an emotional outlet. I had nobody to confide in as a kid, and I let the curse words fly. It helped tremendously and still does. 
  • Dancing, jogging, walking, cardio exercise. Gotta get those neurotransmitters flowing. I did so much writing today, that I broke things up by taking a few quick walks in the...
  • Sunshine. I'm lucky to live in CA.
  • Laughter! I advise a hearty laugh AT LEAST once a day. I'm talking about a laugh from the pit of your being that bursts out of you and continues until you're on the verge of losing control of bodily functions. Two of my favorite sources for this are A Beer for the Shower and Al Penwasser.
  • Antidepressant meds. Not everyone who's depressed needs medication, and not everyone facing depression can find the right antidepressant. I went through years of awful med trials. Eventually, I was fortunate to find one that works for me. Now, I hardly think about it; I take it like a daily vitamin.
  • Counseling. I've had more therapists who hurt versus helped. But I persisted, and a few good ones guided me through significant change. Simply having a place/person to express oneself to is crucial.
  • Connections.  Depression messes up our brains, causing us to believe that we're crap, our lives are crap, and there's no reason to go on...The best way to stay grounded in reality and hopeful, is through connections with caring people. I've pushed myself to reach out, even if only by calling a talk-line, when in deep despair.
  • Chocolate. How could I not include this? I'm opting for dark chocolate more often these days, though, to keep it a little healthier. I also maintain a fairly healthy diet otherwise. When I overdo it on the sweets, or on food in general, which is often, I tend to feel guilty enough to exercise it off.
 If you struggle with depression, you're not alone. I think it's particularly common amongst the writer/artist community. You're in very good company. Let's keep the conversations going. Please feel free to email me at Rawknrobyn@aol.com. Life is worth living, and everyday brings much to appreciate.

Have a nice, laugh-filled new week.
   Thanks again to the Survive and Thrive Bloghop Team!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Halloween Erotica II.

Last week, I went to a local cafe for open mic night - planning to read some poetry. After a while, I noticed that the organizer was only having his musician friends perform. Between songs, I approached him. 

"Excuse me, is this really an open mic?" I asked. "I brought some poetry."

He appeared slightly revolted. "We don't really do poetry here. Do you sing?"  

Dude, gimme a karaoke machine and I'll belt out Barry Manilow's Copa Cabana. "No. I'm a lousy singer, but this is advertised for all artists. My poetry's pretty short." He didn't give me an answer, so I sat, embittered. One guitar-strumming cowboy after another sang about his long lost love. With the men on either side of me asking to see my poetry, though, my confidence soared.

Finally, after every musician had performed, the organizer told me, "You can do one really quick poem." 

"Okay, sure." Then, for poets throughout the world (all three of us), I worked the room. "I get the feeling you're not much of a poetry crowd," I started, "so I'm about to change that. This first poem is called Halloween Erotica." There was cheering, and the cafe fell silent as I read the original here. [I've posted it several times over the years.] That experience motivated me to work on part II.    Happy Pre-Hallow's Eve!
When darkness falls,
I'm at your door
To raid your stash
Then beg for more.
So hold it out 
And let me see.
The big, long ones work best for me.
Don't tantalize with bits of bait
Drop it down! 
I hate to wait!
It's been a year; I need my fix.
You give me treats 
I'll show you tricks.
Stuff my bag
And make it last
I'm known to ravage hard and fast.
I've one rule, though. 
Make no mistake.
If it's not wrapped
I won't partake
 'Cuz safety first. Mom taught me right. 
And I'll devour 
throughout the night.
I'll stake my claim 
On all your best
Then disappear
Just like the rest.
Don't fall asleep. 
There's no reprieve.
I'll knock some more
Next Hallow's Eve.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hershey's Bliss - Reason to Celebrate? And a Chocolate Review

Warning: This information, while distressing, is too important to ignore. Please be mindful of these facts when purchasing Halloween candy and/or when feeding a cocoa craving. Most of the data below is based on my on-line research in 2010. There's been little change AND one blissful victory.
The harsh facts: Thousands of children are kidnapped, trafficked, and sold to cocoa plantations every year. The average price per child: $1.20-1.90. Often, these child slaves have no concept of chocolate. Rather, they are forced to endure 12-18 hour workdays, handle machetes without proper training, climb high trees – while exposed to hazardous chemicals in a treacherous climate. Should they rebel or perform “poorly,” they are beaten. Should they try to escape, they are killed. A vast majority of these known abuses occur in West Africa’s Ivory Coast.

Despite high-powered opposition for over seven years, Hershey's continues business with the Ivory Coast. Certainly the world’s largest chocolate corporation, boasting over $5 billion in revenue annually, can afford to take a stance.This monstrous entity acquired Sharffen-Berger in 2005 and Dagoba in 2006. In fact, it's likely that most every candy at your local 7-11 or convenience store is Hershey's owned. Also, Hershey's produces many non-chocolate products, such as Twizzlers. The company owns Mars and many others. Thus I've boycotted my once favorite cheap chocolate, the m&m, since I learned this unsettling information.

No worries, safe alternatives abound. The most assuredly exploitation-free chocolate carries a Fair Trade Label. We pay more, but dollars go directly to the development of community resources, such as schools or hospitals. Fair trade cocoa originates in Belize, Bolivia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Peru. To find out a candy's source, look at the back label. Organic chocolate is another good option (e.g., Newman’s Organics). Trader Joe's provides exploitation free products, and independent stores often carry safe alternatives.

Seven years of hardcore advocacy on the part of individual and group activists resulted in Hershey's announcement last year that they'd go Fair Trade by 2020 (Why so far away? Do they think activists will drop the fight by then?). For now, they've introduced Bliss and Dagoba Rainforest Alliance Certified lines.

It's incredibly confusing, as there are numerous levels of "fairness" in trade practices. This article does very well to clarify Hershey's recent move. I don't quite get it, but I believe we've reason to celebrate - while continuing to fight.

For now, I highly encourage you to purchase Hershey's Bliss Rainforest Alliance Certified or any other candy designated on the "fair" spectrum instead of the usual Halloween candy suspects. Note that Brach's candy corns are NOT fair trade.

Also note that Bliss tastes blissful. I've sampled it for you. You're welcome. Wink.

It's dark chocolate, not too bitter or too sweet. It's just right and blissfully tasty. For their efforts, yet for their need to continue to move in the right direction, I give Hershey's Bliss dark chocolates a 9 on a 1-10 scale.

There are approximately 30-40 chocolates per bag,* and this candy is approximately $1 more than non-fair trade candy. Your conscience, and the world's children, are worth that. Right?

*Now, less than two hours after I made the purchase, there are only 22 or so. Hanging head low in shame, whilst beaming ecstatically. 
Thank you, Hershey's! Keep doing better, and we'll keep holding up the bar for you!

Here are some folks fighting the good fight, and my sources of this information:
Fair Trade Labeling Organization
Fair Trade Candy Blog
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Me on TV Again, Robin Williams' Rippling Impact

Excuse the self-indulgence, especially if you're a facebook friend, but it's not every day that TV cameras are on me. This is a news-bite by Channel 7 News Reporter Jerry Olenyn. He's a warmhearted man, who invited me to watch him splice this piece together after filming it. Jerry also kindly uploaded this feed for me the other day; it wasn't accessible on their website.

Some random notes: ~While being filmed, I was only concerned about what the wind was doing to my hair. Rightfully so, it's looking pretty wild here. ~TV does not add 20 pounds like they say it does. Thank goodness. ~It doesn't add height either like I hoped it would. But you can't tell how short I am here, or how Jerry scrunched down to film me, so it's all good.

Seriously, though, I'm fortunate to have been interviewed for the local News regarding Robin Williams' death by suicide, which continues to impact us all. Hopefully, honest, open, small and large scale conversations about mental illness and suicide are only beginning. If we can keep the momentum going, lives will undoubtedly be saved. What better tribute to such a wonderful man? This, and continuing to laugh through it all!

Have a nice week, dear friends.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Queen Elizabeth II Guest Stars at Life by Chocolate: IWSG Anniversary Bash

The IWSG Team has been working hard at putting together an eBook that will benefit all writers - The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond. All IWSG members, Facebook members, and followers have been invited to contribute. Tomorrow is the deadline for submissions. Given the creative brilliance in this group, it's sure to be an exceptional product.

Regrettably, I'm not contributing. In part, I'm too insecure. I've also had other big projects to tackle. But I do want to shout "Happy 3rd Anniversary!" to the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Thank you, Alex, for facilitating three years of encouragement, support, angst, tears, hysteria, and random fun.

To celebrate, I tried to invite someone really important to my studio. Danny DeVito's rates were too high, though, so Queen Elizabeth II came over from across the pond!

The Queen --robust and manly, wide and ever devoid of personality -- rides in on her thoroughbred named Sir Loin.  "Harder, faster! Sir Loin!" she shouts, whacking his rear with her stick. She sees the camera and yelps towards it, clearly delirious: "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis."*

"That's not my business, lady," I tell her. "Keep it clean around here. It ain't that kind of party."
The Queen, 88 years old and counting, springs from her horse and does some acrobatics."Ta ta, cheerios, English muffins, carry on!"

Happy Birthday, IWSG!

*Actual quote by Queen Elizabeth II.

Wikipedia, US Weekly, and the Official Magazine Britain were abused in the making of this post.