A glimpse into the world of obscenely overpriced chocolates

Via Jen comes this fascinating expose on Dallas-based gourmet chocolatier Noka. If you're at all interested in chocolate, how it's made or how it's marketed, this is a must-read.


Because nothing says Christmas like champagne in the hot tub

My parents' house has a nice pool, complete with heating. It's been so mild this year that they could probably still be using it, but my dad already closed it up for the winter.

That's where my grandparents come in. A few weeks ago, they bought a hot tub, complete with color-changing lights and a "waterfall." (They had a slightly cheaper one in mind, but my dad - a former college linebacker - just couldn't fit in it. I understand they had to take him to the hot tub place and have him sit in their potential purchases.) This big buy - along with my grandmother's love of touring the new addition to my parents' house (the "homestead"), all the while saying things like, "Oh, and just LOOK at this bathroom sink!" - convinces me that my grandparents are truly happy living out their days in spa-like comfort in suburban Cincinnati.

So when I arrived for my two-day Christmas stay in Milford, the hot tub had been set up for just about a week. That's new enough that my mom wanted to spend all her spare time in it - and no time is more spare than the time between opening presents on Christmas morning and waiting for the relatives to arrive on Christmas afternoon. So, not two hours after I'd torn open my Indiana Jones box set and had my first cup of coffee, my mom said, "Come on, Kel - get on your bathing suit!"

Did you know you're supposed to shower before using a hot tub?

Of my five readers, two are now saying, "Ew, I can't believe she didn't know that!" and the other three are saying, "A shower? Really?"

Yes, really. The water in a hot tub doesn't go anywhere to be filtered, so any dirt you have on you just stays in there. The instructional DVD that came with the tub said being in a hot tub with one other person is akin to being in a regular pool with 150 other people. (As a former visitor to Miami Hills on crowded days, I can tell you that this is super-gross.)

I guess my grandpa doesn't shower every day (which makes sense - it's not like he runs a daily 5K or anything), so he can only go in the hot tub on shower days. My parents were making fun of him - "Ha, ha - YOU can't go in the hot tub!" - and he was all, "Hey, I took my shower this morning!" But he didn't go in when I was there, and Nana was doing some kitchen thing, and my sister wanted to take a nap. So it was just my parents and me.

Which is weird - sitting in a hot tub with my parents on Christmas Day, sipping champagne (my mom decided it would make the occasion more festive). But hey, it beats watching the Jets beat Miami.


No more cats, please (or, spooked by a dream)

In my dream last night, I was still in college, but I owned Thursday. My college roommate gave me Christmas presents, and among them was a stray cat wrapped in a blue blanket. I pretended to be happy, but really I was wondering how the hell we were going to fit two cats in our dorm room.

Then (in the dream) I went home for Christmas break, and my parents also gave me a stray cat. As Thursday fought with the newcomer, I realized I had left the other new cat back in my dorm with no food or water.

So if you're reading this, and you're thinking about getting me a stray cat for Christmas because you know I like cats and hey, there's that stray that keeps getting into your garbage cans - please know that I'd prefer a gift certificate.


Queen Blogopopolis

I've finally gotten around to updating my blogroll - because I know you were all waiting for it.

You can see under "My Other Blogs" I've added Popography, where I mostly just crab about how Gilmore Girls has totally gone downhill this season. You might like the stuff the other people are posting, though.

WireCan has been added to Local Blogs. I've fixed the link to Josh's blog in Friends and updated the Other blogs to reflect what I've been reading these days. I've gotten rid of the links to my MySpace, etc. pages and (finally) added a link to the weekly comic Mr. Wufflekins draws.

Many of the blogs on this roll have got some awesome stuff up right now. Allow me to direct your attention to:
- Carrie and Eileen, who just got back from a trip to England and have recapped the experience. Who knew so many people jumped in front of Underground trains?
- Ronson, who's working on a "Top 25 Songs of 2006" list. Go see if you've heard of more than, like, eight of them.
- Gina, who's got a sweet video of her fun evening at the Pop Rocked opening reception.


Radio winnowing

My alarm clock plays CDs, but in the past few months it hasn't worked so well. Even CDs that are bought and not burnd begin to skip after about 30 seconds of play. So it's back to the radio stations for me.

NPR was my first choice, but it is simply impossible to wake up to. I'd set my alarm for 7 a.m. and bolt upright with a start at 8:15. It's too bad; I really enjoyed those "This I Believe" essays.

I tried Mix for a while, but I couldn't stand Whoopi's voice, and there was no music. I don't understand why radio stations think the thing to do when people are waking up is play NO MUSIC WHATSOEVER. I don't want to hear from callers in Brooklyn or wherever talking about how much they love Whoopi; I want to hear "Rock Lobster."

97.3 (when it was Everything Alternative and not The Wolf) worked for a few weeks. The morning show, Rover's Morning Glory - whatever. At least they played a song I liked once in a while.

But then one morning I heard Rover talking about some news item where we bombed a Muslim wedding party in Iraq, and people were all pissed off. Rover didn't understand this, because if we couldn't bomb all Muslims everywhere at their weddings, they would surely come back and bomb us just as soon as the vows were exchanged. Evil people, you know, those Muslims.

So I switched to Q102. And this actually worked for a couple of months. Sometimes they'd play a Hinder or Pussycat Dolls song, but I learned to see that as an incentive to get up and turn off the radio. It turned into a system: "Lips of an Angel" meant hit the snooze button; "Buttons" meant get up and put on some coffee already. Plus, I liked that the talk was actually local; one amusing call-in segment on a high-school football widow had several people calling in to say they went to high school with the bride or worked with the groom.

And then one day they broke the news that Wal-Mart, in response to protests from evangelical Christians, is forgoing the word "Holiday" and using "Christmas" signage to refer to its seasonal merchandise.

The three DJs were all thrilled! "That is such good news," they trilled. "Oh, I'm so glad Wal-Mart saw the light on this one," they warbled. "And of course it's not about disrespecting anyone else's religion," they caveated.

Looking back, perhaps I should have called in and asked these DJs why they thought the use of the term "holiday" was so offensive to begin with. "When someone wishes you a 'happy holiday,' do you grit your teeth and think, 'You BASTARD!' " I would say to them.

But right around that time, 94.9 The Sound began its 9,490 nonstop song promotion, so I switched again. Now the worst thing I have to worry about is hearing the Jane's Addiction song "Caught Stealing" for the eighth time since the promotion began. And let me tell you: it's a lot better than dealing with people.

Plus, this morning they played "Rock Lobster."


What I did on my two-day vacation (in no particular order)

- Painted both fingernails and toenails
- Sorted laundry (did not actually do laundry)
- Cleaned refrigerator
- Advanced three episodes in God, the Devil and Bob DVD set
- Finally finished BBC version of The Office; returned DVDs to Mr. Wufflekins
- Completed first battle with Xemnas, won Goddess of Fate cup in Kingdom Hearts II
- Got high score in reading aloud in Brain Age
- Advanced, like, five paragraphs in The Omnivore's Dilemma (due to my habit of reading it at bedtime, not to any fault of writer's style)
- Cleaned piles of random junk off desk; replaced with slightly smaller and less numerous piles of junk; discovered desk is made of blond-wood-veneer particle board and not old bank statements
- Rearranged DVD/video game shelf; retired VHS tapes to bookshelf in bedroom (except for The Maxx, which is still in player)
- Opened kit of "Winter Knits" patterns; discovered do not know how to complete any of them
- Moved two storage bins out of bedroom (five to go, plus "donate to charity" pile)
- Cooked three new dishes: tomato basil turkey meatloaf, Crock-Pot cranberry chicken, apple cranberry walnut crisp. (Have only tasted meatloaf - it's OK, but kind of loose. Chicken smells weird and off-putting to me; crisp smells amazing.)
- SausageFest 2006! Louis Rich turkey sausage patties are far tastier and better-looking when cooked than Jennie-O patties, plus they have half the fat. (Louis Rich also makes my favorite turkey bacon; I guess those guys know turkey.)
- Wandered Kenwood Towne Centre, Barnes & Noble without finding any Christmas presents for anyone
- Had crazy Kenwood IHOP experience involving waiter bringing checks before drinks, disappearing for entire meal, and taking so long to process my check I thought he had pocketed my change; Stacie's mom said we should have gone to Taco Bell
- Totally forgot about volunteering to be "celebrity" bartender for World's Largest Office Party tomorrow

Midnight baking

Fun fact: I always, always underestimate the amount of time it's going to take me to cook something. I never take prep time into account, and then I wind up puttering around at 1 a.m., waiting for the damn thing to be done.

Case in point: Tonight I got home at 10:30, 10:45, all ready to make this apple cranberry walnut crisp. (I have fresh cranberries left over from Thanksgiving, so I'm trying some new recipes to get rid of them.) It takes an hour to bake, so I guess my thought process went, cool, I'll pop it in the oven and be done by midnight.

Yeah, I hadn't done any of the prep work. Do you know how long it takes to peel and slice 3 pounds of apples? I don't either, but when I finally slid the mixture into the oven, it was 11:45, so I'm guessing it takes a while.

At least I'll have a really awesome breakfast for the next few days.


Vacation can sneak up on you

So I woke up this morning and thought a little bit about the month of December, and I realized that, hey, I'm supposed to be on vacation tomorrow and Tuesday!

I think.

So I called up my supervisor and found out that although she doesn't remember specifically when I'm supposed to be on vacation, she thinks tomorrow and Tuesday sound about right. And when I asked if I should just come in tomorrow and figure out some other days, she said she wasn't sure there really were other days. (The month of December is crazy in this respect; trying to find unobtrusive days to take off is why I wound up with random vacation days that I don't remember.) So I said all right, guess I'll see you Wednesday.

So now I'm faced with two extra days off and no plans for how to fill them. I'm sure I could just wing it, but that way would lie two days of blog-checking and DVD-watching. So I sent a text message to my sister in Columbus, asking if I might pay her a visit, and maybe do some Christmas shopping while I'm at it. We'll see how that goes.

How strange.